JCC develops a teen leadership program for ninth graders

Naomi Korn, Eastside Staff

If teens want to learn how to play tennis, they can sign up for a tennis clinic. If they want to learn how to play the clarinet, they can enroll in clarinet lessons. However, it is not as easy for teens that want to become better community leaders to find a place to turn. Recognizing this, the Katz JCC has developed a teen leadership program, entitled J-LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Design). This half-year program is for teens in ninth grade. It is meant to inspire and involve South Jersey teens through leadership development and an understanding of needs in the community. Admission to the program is by application, which requires applicants to write an essay relating to leadership and what they hope to accomplish with new leadership skills. This year, 30 teens participated in the program.

The program includes eight sessions over the course of five months, from January to May. Many of the sessions included meetings with local leaders, hands-on leadership-building activities, and group projects. The program met about every two weeks for about two hours in the evening. Each session focused on a specific value of leadership and how specifically to use that leadership value to address many issues facing the community. The first week included an introduction to leadership and explored a range of values held by the participants. The next week’s program centered on communication and social media. This session focused on strategies to use social media effectively to convey a message and gather support. To add on to communication, the next week was focused on teen movement and peer engagement.  

The latter sessions of the program emphasized program planning and fundraising, as well as the meaning behind philanthropy and volunteerism. During the last two sessions of the year, the teens put all the skills previously learned all together to accomplish a real fundraising project from start to finish.

The J-LEAD program just graduated its second class of ninth graders. Maddy Kagan (’20) was member of the 2017 J-LEAD program, and has enjoyed what she has learned as a result of it.

“It has taught me how to be independent, how to work with others, how to start organizations to help others, and most importantly how to never give up and work to the best of my ability.””

— Maddy Kagan

“J-LEAD has taught me many things. It has taught me how to be independent, how to work with others, how to start organizations to help others, and most importantly how to never give up and work to the best of my ability.” She has really enjoyed the experience of J-LEAD and that the program enabled her not only to learn but also to “make new friends from other schools and other districts.” Kagan Said.

Likewise, another J-LEAD member Ali Koenig (’20) said that through the program she “learned to speak up for herself and others.” She also said that J-LEAD “gave her confidence in her own voice and the knowledge that she could make a difference.”

A formal graduation ceremony took place on Monday, May 22 at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill. Several participants explained what they enjoyed most about J-LEAD, and how they will use the leadership skills they have learned throughout high school and beyond.