I had a lovely and inspiring weekend away recently, and I’ll share in a few separate blog posts.
This first is the original reason for the trip, my keynote presentation for “FCON 2013,” the regional fall conference of the Pacific Northwest Division of Circle K International. CKI is the college branch of Kiwanis International. Their main goal is to support students to become better leaders, guiding them to find leadership potential in themselves and others through service.
My former student, Laura Cimolino, is a graduate of Soundview School, where I’ve spent the last twelve years. She now attends Linfield College in McMinnville, OR and as organizing chair of the event asked me to speak about leadership at the event.
What an honor, not only to have contact with a student after she moves on, but to be invited by her to share my experiences! I was excited not only to speak with the kids, but to work alongside them on one of the service projects planned for the weekend.
The theme was “Sailing into Service,” so I set about pulling lessons from my sailing life into my talk. It was so educational for me personally to break the lessons we’ve learned from sailing into points to be made about being a good leader. The reflection I engaged in while writing has resulted in some new ways of thinking about what leadership really looks like for me as well.
But boy, howdy, these folks did not need me to help them understand what being a good leader means. As I sat at meals, or during free time between the meetings they planned and ran, I listened. What I heard was powerful. These students are passionate. They traveled from Idaho, Canada, all over Washington and Oregon, to a camp in Corbett, Oregon up the Columbia River. They came willingly. When they could, they paid $80 each for the privilege to attend, though scholarships are available – and regularly utilized – for those students whose budgets are just too tight. Lucky students’ local Kiwanis clubs pick up the tab for gas, which is a make or break deal for some of them. However they got there, they engaged.
They work hard at gatherings like this to take care of their organization. The work chat around the tables was about budgets and how to be good stewards of them. About member retention and recruiting. About how to give and sustain support for clubs with struggles.
I also listened to students share why they are part of this organization:
Becoming a part of the CKI family has made my college experience extremely better.
I was looking for a niche in college, and CKI helped me not only to find my place, but to learn what it means to serve others.
I found my own potential as a leader. I came out of my shell.
And I served with them. One group went to work removing invasive species from a developing trail that is part of the Johnson Creek Trail project . I didn’t get to learn much about exactly where they worked, but I saw video of their day in the woods. Those were some big ivy roots, and they had to go prepared for rain and mud on a cold November day.
Meanwhile, I was with the group that headed up just below the snow line to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp and got to work on creating backdrops to provide atmosphere for the four themes of the summer camps offered for the disabled community.
The most moving experience was to see video of one of the adult campers, and to hear her and her parents talk about how this camp has transformed her, giving her the confidence to live on her own. Seeing where our work would be used to enrich the lives of others was very powerful, and knowing we were creating an experience for a camp which serves its campers at an astonishing counselor to camper ratio (2:1 for most severely disabled, 1:1 for most, and 1:2 for the most independent campers) was humbling.
We quickly broke into small groups and got started on the task at hand: transform several wood panels, poster boards and pieces of fabric into fantasy worlds for the campers. This sounds easy. It was certainly a cushy job compared to the work of the folks who run the camp, but it was no mean task to finish what we could in the short time we had.
Late in the day, when I ran out of ideas, I took suggestions, then put a few lines on one of the boards for the “Under the Sea” theme. The students transformed it into this masterpiece!
After our day spent on service, the campers moved into student-led meetings and workshops, then it was my turn to share about leadership, with my keynote presentation called Taking the Helm: Leadership Lessons from Small Boat Sailing. It was very rewarding. Students were engaged and appreciative of the lessons I shared with them, sharing thoughtfully themselves about what makes a leader.
Of course, there was fun, too. There were lots of rowdy card games, talk, laughter, and work on “Warm Fuzzies,” notes of encouragement and appreciation for each member of the community. Great food punctuated the rest of the time spent on our weekend.
By the end of my time with them, I myself had many warm fuzzy feelings for these bright and passionate students and the committed adult Kiwanians who advise them. I very much appreciate having had the opportunity to learn, work and share with these young people.