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Learning to lead: youngsters sharpen skills, make new friends at teen summit.

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Deep in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, far from cell phone reception and cable television, a group of 92 teenagers from across the United States gathered at Camp Wahsega, a 4-H camp in Dahlonega, Ga., July 14-18. Although none of the teens knew each other, they all shared a common bond--being the child of a Reservist or Guard member.

The Teen Leadership Summit, a first-of-its-kind event hosted by Air Force Reserve Command, was a challenging week of adventure and education. However, most importantly, the event served as a chance for teens to meet other teens who are facing similar challenges and hardships.

"We were discussing the challenges of having Air Force Reserve families all over the United States and how do we reach out to them and find out what their needs are and how can we meet those needs," said Stacey Young, AFRC's chief of family member programs. "We thought if we could bring a group of key teens from all across the country who are dependents of Air Force Reservists (and Air National Guardsmen), we could talk to them about what issues they're having and how we can meet their needs and also provide them an overview of the programs and services that are already available to them."

Males and females between the ages of 14 and 18 were chosen from across the nation. Some came from as far away as Alaska. Teens were asked to write a short essay describing why they wanted to attend and what they expected to get from the summit.

"The goal was to bring together children of Reserve and Air Guard members who have a common bond to give them an experience they'll never forget in terms of growing as leaders, learning some leadership skills, confidence building and team building," said Brig. Gen. Richard Severson, AFRC's assistant vice commander at the time of the summit. He has since retired.

"These are opportunities that many have not had to date," he said. "To share that experience at a critical time in their lives when they are starting to make career decisions is phenomenal."

The teens participated in a variety of outdoor activities, including rock climbing and white-water rafting. In addition, they attended classes in herpetology, survival training, stream ecology and leadership.

Representatives from the Boys and Girls Club of America, Military One Source, the American Legion and 4-H briefed the teens on opportunities in their local areas, as well as educations benefits.

"We'd like the teens to take away from this summit what programs and services are out there," Mrs. Young said. "We want them to become advocates for their community and speak out for other military kids who are going through the same challenges."

For many of the teens who attended, the trip down south represented a first, whether it was their first flight or first time in the region. AFRC funded all travel and accommodations for the trip.

"It's really new and exciting. I've never been to the South before. I like it. It's different," said Sarah Elizabeth Horton, a 15-year-old from New Hampshire. "I made new friends from around the country who I can stay in touch with."

Beyond making new friends, the summit allowed teens to build a support network to help one another.

"During leadership class, we talked about how to better deal with our parents deployments by communicating and talked about counseling other kids going through the same situation," Miss Horton said.

Reserve command is already working on next year's Teen Leadership Summit. Pending final approval, plans are to have one teen summit at a new location for both new teens and those who attended this year's event and another one back at Camp Wahsega for new teens only.

Story and photos by Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin

(Sergeant Babin is assigned to the AFRC public affairs office at Robins AFB, Ga.)
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Author:Babin, Chance C.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:648
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