Lifelong friends were made, personal experiences shared, and everyone discovered the power of togetherness during UALR-Children International’s (UALR CI) Youth Leadership Retreat. Held at the 4-H Center just west of Little Rock, this year’s retreat was led by Susannah Beachboard, Youth Education Manager for UALR-CI. Facilitated by an amazing, dynamic team of AmeriCorps members, the retreat focused on giving youth the choice and voice to make positive change for themselves, for one another, and for their community.

The 47 youth attended, with ages ranging from 11-17 years old, representing over 10 different middle and high schools in the Little Rock area. Arriving with different perspectives and life experiences, youth were able to ask one another personal questions, and give peer-to-peer, real-life advice. The youth engaged in group activities that focused on bringing out their natural talents, strengthening their weaknesses and finding their own voice.

Complementing the program’s activities, the young adults also enjoyed canoeing, nature walks and s’mores around the camp fire. “This was a wonderful new experience for my son,” said the mom of one of the campers. “He really came out of his shell and learned how to make friends. We are very grateful for this retreat!”

Step Into the Circle initiated bonding amongst the youth as the participants learned not only trust, but to bolster one another while they disclosed each other’s personal challenges. “I never knew others felt the same as me,” one youth stated after her experience with the sharing circle. The entire weekend proved to the youth how strong and wonderful they really are and that they all have more in common than they realized. “Now I know I’m not alone.”

The Egg Drop proved particularly challenging as the students were charged with protecting the egg (representing feelings) during an 8ft drop armed with only straws and tape. The teams then developed persuasive marketing presentations to explain their protection devices and their effectiveness.

Another group favorite was the Trust Walk during which, working in pairs, blindfolded teammates were led around an obstacle course. In between nervous shrieks and giggles of relief and clumsiness, “guiders” learned to communicate and keep their partner safe, while “walkers” relinquished their sense of control into the trusting hands of their peer.

The new young leaders learned how to more fully love themselves by keeping an “ear” on their hearts, a caring “eye” on their peers, and finding a collective “voice” for making change in their community. They look forward to a spring full of discussions, actions, and friendships.





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