A chance for youth to lead

Tiffany Gibson (right) sits with Gina Kovalik (left) discussing upcoming events for Junior Leadership Durham. (Staff photo by Nautica Lane)

Many parents want their child to be a leader and not a follower.

Nautica Lane

Nautica Lane

Junior Leadership Durham Inc. is a non-profit program training high school sophomore students in becoming strong leaders and has been around since 2003.

JLD promotes teamwork, helps in the development of leadership skills and encourages self-confidence and personal growth. In the program participants connect with business, community and government leaders in order to help achieve detailed insight of Durham and how it works.

Participants meet once a month from September until the program’s April graduation. During meetings, participants interact with the community through service learning and volunteering and attend local government sessions.

Robin Odom, 63, is a JLD board member. She graduated Leadership Durham, a leadership program for adults, which JLD is modeled after, in 1999. While no longer active, Leadership Durham helped Durham adults in developing and enhancing leadership skills.

Odom now handles administration work involved with JLD like keeping the board and participants informed on each session.

“It introduces students to new people and helps them learn about Durham,” she said.

Prior to her graduation from Leadership Durham, Odom thought a similar program should be created for youth. After attending a conference in Asheville in 1999 in which she heard a presentation on youth leadership programs, Odom promoted the idea to DPS and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

A group of Leadership Durham graduates worked for two years on plans for JLD and in 2003 the program held its first class of 25 participants.

Tiffany Gibson, 25, was an original student.

“It gave me the opportunity to meet other students from other Durham schools while also learning about Durham and developing leadership skills,” said Gibson.

Tiffany Gibson (right) sits with Gina Kovalik (left) discussing upcoming events for Junior Leadership Durham. (Staff photo by Nautica Lane)

Tiffany Gibson (right) sits with Gina Kovalik (left) discussing upcoming events for Junior Leadership Durham.
(Staff photo by Nautica Lane)

Gibson said one of the most memorable events that she participated in with JLD was a high ropes course.

“The high ropes course was exciting because it really challenged us to work as a team,” she said. “I had to climb over a wall with the support of people that I had only known for a few hours and this exercise helped us see that a leader is only as good as the team.”

After completing JLD, Gibson joined its board in her junior and senior high school years.

After high school she went to Winston-Salem State University where she became editor of the student newspaper, The News Argus, and eventually graduated in 2010.

She said JLD helped her to become an editor by “stepping out and taking on challenges others hesitate to take.”

After college Gibson became the first JLD graduate to become the program’s president and has held the position for two years. Aside from JLD, she works in clinical research and is also a Girl Scout Leader for Troop 1593.

While JLD is free to participants and operated by community volunteers, it runs on a small budget.

Gibson said donations vary and come from employers, foundations and individuals.

AW North Carolina, a local automatic transmission manufacturer, gave JLD the seed money to start the program with Duke Energy Foundation, the Durham Merchant’s Association and the Redwoods Group making other donations through the years.

The Great Human Race is also a big fundraiser for the program.

Participants meet city leaders like the mayor, city and county managers while learning the local political system. During these government sessions and also business meetings, students observe leadership skills.

Students are encouraged to find ways to contribute to the community as they learn through volunteer activities like helping build homes for Habitat for Humanity, collecting food for food drives and working with the Red Cross. They also help with community organizations like Urban Ministries by sorting clothes in their clothing closet.

JLD students are also encouraged in becoming school leaders by joining SGA or forming a new school club.

Gibson hopes Durham participants network with volunteers while learning about Durham and enhancing leadership skills. She also hopes the program continues to grow and diversify.

“My ideal hope is to have each high school in Durham and home schools take an interest in Junior Leadership Durham,” she said.

Similar youth programs are found in Wake Forest, Greensboro and Alamance County.

Dalijah Daley, 15, began participating in JLD this past August. She found out about the program her freshman year at Northern High.

“I found out about the program from my internship guidance counselor, Ms. Householder,” said Daley.

Daley enjoys the program and hopes that she will learn more about Durham and get to know her “fellow peers better.”

Gibson does not have children but said if she did she would have them participate in JLD.

“It helps students become the leaders of tomorrow,” she said.