COLCHESTER, Vt. – The Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference was created in 1958 to inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to live a life dedicated to leadership, service, and innovation. All over the world, over 4,000 volunteers facilitate the training of 10,000 ambassadors, all sophomores in high school. HOBY celebrates over 450,000 alumni that have completed 100 times that in hours of community service. HOBY leaders value volunteerism, integrity, excellence, diversity, and community partnership, and what better way to practice these than to go out in the world and make a difference?
HOBY Vermont welcomes one or two ambassadors from each Vermont high school. This year they had the biggest seminar ever, with 120 ambassadors. The two sophomores from Black River High School were Natasha Fortin and Christina LeTourneau, and the two sophomores from Green Mountain Union High School were Alyssa Ripley and Angelae Wunderle. These students completed an application to attend HOBY, were selected by staff teams within their schools, and funded by local nonprofit organizations. The Black River students were funded by the Black River Booster Club and the Ludlow Women’s Club.
HOBY’s long, impressive history of motivating youth and volunteers to become outstanding leaders begins with a four-day seminar. During these four days, ambassadors put aside their fears and reservations and fully immerse themselves in this experience. Teams of students work together to solve problems, think creatively, and compete for the spirit stick, a sign of greatness that can sometimes earn first rounds of lunch or breakfast or the chance to lead a signature HOBY cheer. Ambassadors and their trainers stay up late at night, typically reflecting on the inspiring presenters of the day, how they addressed world hunger and economic inequity, or how they brought to light some of the most uncomfortable subconscious prejudices and biases that influence our behaviors and actions.
During the seminar, days are filled with team-building activities, amazing HOBY cheers, countless new friends, and lots of embarrassing stories to laugh about. It may sounds like there’s all fun and no work, but that’s far from the truth. HOBY leaders are challenged by bigger and bigger projects, from building pieces of a tower out of various materials and only being able to communicate in certain ways, to creating a skit to perform in front of all the ambassadors and facilitators, who are nothing but supportive. The ambassadors also travel to Vermont Youth Conservation Corps to volunteer for a couple hours, and together they planted 15,000 onions and several hundred cabbages that will go to support local families who are prescribed a more nutritious diet by their doctor. Ambassadors step outside their comfort zones, and this empowers them to do the same in their lives when they return home.
There is truly no other group of people that smiles as much as the young HOBY leaders do. This optimism and light-heartedness is truly a virtue that can be shared with the world, and contributes a sense of relaxation to a team. The ability to communicate, listen, and effectively work with others helps a team be successful. Friendly, supportive competition is a healthy way to improve yourself, and combined individual strengths help a team to meet a greater goal. But most of all, the ability to step outside your comfort zone and push your boundaries – that’s what makes a true leader stand out in a crowd. This is the goal of HOBY: to create outstanding leaders who will make a difference in our global community.