High School youth gather at the Schwitzer Student Center on The University of Indianapolis campus. It’s the second day of Student Leadership Academy and it’s quite prevalent they are fatigued from the previous day’s activities. As the morning worship service commences, some students start to show signs of revitalization, as the band, led by peers, opens with songs of praise. The weekend retreat lasts from Friday to Sunday, lined with activities to help high school students (grades 9 – 12) explore their passion, as well as the gifts and tools God has given them, and how well those components merge to mold future in leadership, in ministry and other professions.
Organized by Leadership Development’s Emily Krach and The Rev. Dr. Aleze Fulbright in partnership with The University of Indianapolis Lantz Center for Christian Vocations, SLA was created with an emphasis on helping teens discover God’s calling in his or her life, and how it can be applied in various platforms, in high school and later on in their careers.
“Our dreams are confined in boxes created by society. Dream bigger.” states Dr. Fulbright during a group activity to help youth unearth their passions. “You have the opportunity to make your dreams come true.”
Deanna Hedges, who is attending SLA for the third year shares her story of perseverance, having been faced with significant health issues and forced to undergo several operations. Deanna credits her relationship with God and her time at Student Leadership Academy for guiding toward her passion for providing the underprivileged with clean water without having to walk extraordinarily long distances to do so. Her “Whales for Wells” foundation is working to raise awareness about the importance of water sanitation and the hard truths that many may not know regarding the living conditions of those without access to a nearby well. Deanna shared her story in October during the 2016 Laity Day with the Bishop. By selling quirky and adorable Whales for Wells gear, Deanna aims to continue efforts to help change the world, one well at a time.
Throughout the three-day program, students are immersed in a developmental environment, where they are challenged, coached, and counseled by experienced staff, and learn career-critical skills like teamwork, effective communication, detail orientation, and self-awareness. The program teaches youth how to get in touch with their inner beings, focusing on their core values and instincts, while actively seeking God’s guidance, and how to use those gifts for personal and professional improvement.
The days are strategically scheduled, beginning with morning prayer and worship and ending with an evening service. After the morning gathering, students are divided into teams as they begin the day’s sessions. Sessions help answer questions like “What matters to me?” “How can I make a difference?” and “What do I have to offer?” All self-challenging and thought-provoking prompts to help teens discover their passion and capabilities. Other sessions include, “What about the Church?” “Calling Discerned in Community,” and “Things to do when you get home.” All designed to help UMC youth take the ideals, skills, and tools they’ve learned at Student Leadership Academy and apply them to life beyond campus.