How to Build a Better Leader – In Wisconsin, Summer Camps Are Just the Start

 

By Joleigh Little, WRTL Region Coordinator and Teens for Life Director

Editor’s note. This appears on page seven of the September digital edition of National Right to Life News. You can read the entire issues at www.nrlc.org/uploads/NRLNews/NRLNewsSeptember2014.pdf

Wisconsin Right to Life’s summer camps build leaders who will benefit the cause of life for years to come.

Wisconsin Right to Life’s summer camps build leaders who will benefit the cause of life for years to come.

Throughout history we’ve been consumed with making things bigger and better. It’s the American way. But what good, really, is a bigger and better car/house/boat/mousetrap in a world where the most basic rights – specifically life – are not cherished? The answer is obvious. Not much.

It is with that in mind, that we at Wisconsin Right to Life, like other NRLC affiliates, have devoted much time and effort to building something a little more lasting. In short, we’re building leaders – young people who will carry the cause of life into the future as they grow up, graduate, attend college, enter the workforce and start families of their own.

The beauty of this strategy is that the right-to-life message – the basic truth that life is valuable and must be protected – is not something you outgrow. It’s something that, once you have made it a part of your life, you carry forward and share with others. You talk about it on campus. You share with co-workers. You teach your own children to love and protect life. You build a culture that cherishes life one conversation, one interaction at a time.

Here in Wisconsin, we have been hosting summer camps to train young pro-life leaders since the summer of 2003. In that time we have trained hundreds and even thousands of young people to defend the cause of life with words and actions as they debate, engage in social media and reach out to help women who face unplanned pregnancies. And while that training is invaluable and forms the bedrock for our youth outreach program, we quickly realized that it, alone, wasn’t enough.

It was a fabulous start, of course. But we needed to do more. (And this is true for all of us in this movement… until every life is protected, we MUST continue to do more, every single day.)

What, for example, about kids who were trained at our camps as teenagers but then graduate and go to college?

Enter our college grant program which helps form right-to-life groups on college campuses throughout the state, ensuring that what is learned at camp will continue to reach hearts and minds throughout a young person’s post-high school years. This idea was one proposed by a volunteer in the living room of a local chapter leader back in 2004. Since that time, hundreds of college students have participated in a program that has educated thousands on campuses across the state.

But, as we examined our work – it’s the only way to improve your reach – we realized that even more could be done. In 2013 we started a program to initiate and grow new Teens for Life groups across the state. The pilot year followed groups in all corners of the state and continues to build leaders who are savvy, articulate, and ready to answer any challenge set before them. The leaders of these groups, in turn, train the members of the group, and those members go home and educate siblings, parents and extended family.

You see, we have learned through the years of our youth outreach, that while training is vital, you can’t just throw information at teenagers, send them home, and expect them to succeed. As with anything of real value, much of the success will be based on relationships. We have seen that as those relationships are nurtured – as conversations happen, as friendships form, and as young men and women feel truly a part of something bigger and broader than themselves, leaders are built – one brick, one stone, one layer at a time.

Wisconsin Right to Life has learned that building leaders starts with relationships that affirm life.

Wisconsin Right to Life has learned that building leaders starts with relationships that affirm life.

The best news in all of this is that building leaders is something that can be done at every level in every single state in our entire great country. State affiliates can sponsor youth programs that train high school and college-aged youth. Those youth will help train other young people. At the same time, they will go back to their local right-to-life chapters and help with projects. And at every step of the process, relationships will be established and another layer will be added to the leadership capabilities of each individual young person.

Sound too good to be true? Do you think this is harder than it sounds? Perhaps you’re skeptical that it will really work. Imagine with me, for a minute, that your local chapter receives a letter from a shy 15 year old girl who would like to become more involved. You give her a call and invite her to a meeting. She attends and you gradually give her more and more responsibilities until eventually she graduates and goes to college.

She goes on to intern and then work full-time at National Right to Life. In time she returns to your state and takes a position with your state affiliate, working with youth. Or social media. Or legislators. This isn’t fiction. It has happened time and time again.

You see, when you invest, when you establish a relationship, when you give of your time – YOU can and will build young leaders. And in doing so, you will save lives. Perhaps even the world. One brick, one stone, one layer at a time.

So… GO OUT THERE AND BUILD SOME LEADERS! Do you think a Teens for Life camp sounds like a grand idea, but your state doesn’t have one? Contact us! Would you like to start a Teens for Life program in your state? We can help. Whatever you can do, please do it. And if you need help, please let us know!

For more information on National Right to Life’s Life and Leadership Camp Initiative, how to start a local Teens for Life group, or any of these other projects, please contact us at jlittle@wrtl.org.