On December 12, 2012, ten middle school leadership students and I assisted in a community service event to help those in need over the holidays.

The community event was Operation Holiday, which is sponsored by Inter Faith Ministries, a local non-profit organization. According to the organization’s web page, “Operation Holiday serves seniors, individuals and families living at or below the poverty level.”

“This year 6,843 adults and 6,625 children will receive assistance through Operation Holiday.”

What Kids Think

Our team worked a four hour shift on a Saturday morning at the event. We were assigned various duties, from individually escorting recipients through the food, clothing, and toy lines, to working in the warehouse loading and unloading boxes.

After our shift, the students went through various emotions as they discussed amongst themselves their experience as they waited for their parents or guardians to pick them up. They ranged from happiness at being able to help to sadness that so many people needed that help.

One student stated “I’m glad I was here; otherwise I would still just be in bed, or playing Xbox.“

Future Leaders

As I overheard their conversation without any input, I thought what a great lesson plan could be developed from this experience and shared with other leadership students who could not attend the event. When we discussed the event the next school day, those in attendance did not let me down, sharing their experiences and encouraging others to participate in future community service events.

As I continue to work with our future leaders (whose generation will be the largest in the workforce by 2020), I believe it is important that put our youth in positions to work and lead in the community.

Here are four reasons that youth should give back to their communities, which will also develop their leadership skills:

1. Difficulties in Life Make You Stronger

Leaders know, mostly through experience, that sometimes, life can be tough. This could be in a form of a new, daunting leadership role in an organization or making unpopular decisions as the CEO that will affect many people.

As one student shared with me, just a year ago, she experienced being in a food pantry line with her parents who were laid off from the aircraft industry. Her family, during those times, routinely struggled and accepted charitable gifts until the parents were able to get back on their feet.

She stated to me that the experience may have changed her, but only to make her stronger. It has been my experience that when youths experience difficulties that others may be going through, they can often relate.

As leaders, we need strength during difficult times and the ability to understand that before you can succeed, you must learn from failure and struggle.

2. Keep Investing in People

Great leaders know the importance of people and being in the “people development” business. When young people think of others, or put themselves in positions where they are not the focus, it allows them to avoid being self-serving.

When I think about investing in people, a powerful quote by the late leadership guru and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, says is it best:

3. Giving Back Brings Rewards

When young people learn the importance of connecting to their communities, it not only makes for a better person and student, but also a better citizen American.

While providing this service to the community, not one of the students complained or expected anything in return.

During our classroom discussion, one student had a difficult time expressing how he felt inside, but he did say what he felt was a good feeling.

This feeling he had difficulty expressing was the intrinsic reward that was comes from his participation in helping others.

As leaders, parents, clergy, educators etc., creating those feelings in our youth now will create future rewards for us, as we will someday be dependent on this group of young men and women to lead this county.

4. Be Thankful

By participating in this event and the classroom discussion, the main word that surfaced was “thankful.” The second was “grateful.”

Leaders who have the ability to show gratitude and to be thankful can change the way we think and treat each other, as well as force us to look at our shortcomings and how this world operates.

As a leader, the best example for others to follow is the best example. Leaders with gracious and thankful hearts like Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, etc., will continue to change the world as their visions continue to have an impact long after they have left this world.

Our youth will continue these efforts as well as create visions of their own.

Servant Leadership

Having youth provide a service back to the communities where they live, go to school, or attend church is a great way to establish a youth’s foundation of servant leadership.

Those who will continue to grow and develop their leadership skills will know the importance of community. Who knows?

Maybe our future leaders will bring back that sense of unity and a community “being there for you” at times other than a crisis or tragic event.

Let’s teach these lessons now while they are yet young at age and educate them on the importance of giving back to a community that will always be in need.

Have You Had a Community Experience With Leadership?

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Greg Martin
Greg works for Sedgwick County Department of Corrections and owns Martin Leadership & Management Development. He is a U.S. Army veteran & holds a MS in Leadership and Management from Friends University.