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A Summer of Learning and Leadership

Read this story on the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation Blog

Daniel Noorily is a rising junior at Health Careers High School in San Antonio, Texas. Daniel recently returned from BBYO’s International Leadership Training Conference designed for the organization’s teen leaders. Together, these young leaders spent several weeks strengthening their leadership skills, expanding their network to include peers abroad and learned techniques to affect change and build community. Daniel shares his reflections here.

What do you get when you put over 200 passionate Jewish teens in an immersive summer experience in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania? The expected aversion to “camp food” and fear of bugs aside, what you get is a life changing experience.

I had the pleasure of being a part of just that this summer at BBYO’s International Leadership Training Conference, or ILTC, located at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Lake Como, Pennsylvania.

ILTC is far from your usual summer camp. For example, my fellow campers and I spent our mornings in our “blueprint groups”– groups of almost thirty teens that met together every morning to learn invaluable leadership and life skills, such as effective methods of facilitation, brainstorming and networking.

We were not passive learners. More than just listening to lectures by staff members, we participated in discussion-based lessons and teens and staff were encouraged to share their thoughts on the subject at hand. This “open-forum” style of teaching made it possible for me to learn so much from so many different people from so many different places. This summer at ILTC, there were teens from across the United States, Canada, England, Bulgaria, Argentina and Israel.

I wasn’t just learning about leadership from the classroom. Everywhere I looked, there were lessons to be learned, even in places I didn’t expect, including in interactions with my peers.

You might assume that when you put thirty intelligent, teen leaders in a room – whether they’re talking about why Kosher law prohibits the eating of bacon, effective marketing strategies or anything (and I mean anything) in between – they would all try to take charge of and steer the conversation themselves. In the beginning of the program, your assumption would be correct, but we quickly learned a valuable lesson: a good leader knows when to lead and when to listen. Even though nothing feels better than hearing your peers snap (the standard sign of agreement and support) after sharing your ideas, once in a while you have to take a backseat and just listen to what others have to say.

I applied what I was learning about leadership ten days into the program when I was chosen to be one of the captains of the Blue Team for the Fourth of July Color War. Although I didn’t know it then, the event would be an eye-opening experience. As if by chance, I was placed with the thirty or so campers that I hardly knew and the very thought of leading them scared me. What reason did these strangers have to respect my leadership? Thoughts like this raced through my head as I paced across the Blue Team classroom for the first time. Still, I did my best to be a friendly and engaging team captain – one who showed plenty of team spirit – and soon the team really opened up. Indeed, after a couple of cheer sessions, we found our rhythm and came together as a unified Blue Team.

Looking back, I realize that community was core to my ILTC experience. Whether it was in the dorms, the blueprint groups, the separate boys and girls k’farim (villages) or even in the impromptu elective activities, there was a remarkable sense of unity in everything that we did. My fellow teens and I formed unique ties with and developed strong pride in each other, all in a matter of days.

This sense of community is central to the BBYO experience and to our shared Jewish values. The concept of community building, brotherhood, unity, and the fact that such a great deal of it went on at ILTC continues to inspire me. I learned on the job that a leader’s role is not to order his team members around, but rather to inspire them to work towards a greater goal. That’s what leadership is to me; bringing people together to work for a common cause. I know that in my future, whether it is in the medical field, the Jewish community or another area I haven’t even considered yet, I will always strive to be a leader by creating a sense of unity among the people I lead and inspiring them to do the best work they can do.

The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.

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