2016 Youth Leadership Retreat

Inspiring Character


Creativity, teamwork, cooperation, communication, dedication, honesty, courage, responsibility- these are just some of the skills and values showcased every day in NAZA-sponsored afterschool programs. These skills and values reached their peak at NAZA’s 7th Annual Youth Leadership Retreat, held Monday, October 4th at Camp Widjiwagan.  The program included camp activities such as the Alpine Tower, ground team building games, and the Giant Swing, as well as science activities through a partnership with the Adventure Science Center and a theater workshop through Metro Theater.  Plus, NAZA’s Literacy Coach delivered an interactive workshop focused on character-building. In total, 127 students from 25 schools joined the retreat for a full day of immersive, interactive leadership activities.

One day, full of new and engaging experiences, can be life changing for a young person of middle school age. Middle-schoolers are usually intensely curious, prefer active over passive learning experiences; favor interaction with peers during learning activities; enjoy using skills to solve real life problems; and, are able to think and articulate independently and critically. At this age, social and emotional needs can sometimes take priority over academic goals, and many youth face decisions that have the potential to affect their life trajectory.

NAZA activities are designed taking into consideration age-specific developmental needs as well as principles of positive youth development. The Youth Leadership Retreat, now in its 7th year, aims to promote these essential social and emotional skills that will help middle school students get through challenges, make good choices, make health decisions and learn to work in a team with other  students. Empowering youth and introducing elements of leadership during this critical developmental period is incredibly important.

The YMCA Camp Widjiwagan hosted the event and gave students the opportunity to enjoy outdoor challenges. Climbing the 50-foot Alpine Tower is not only pure fun, but also encourages students to set and reach a goal, to build confidence and courage, and to form character.

We also saw NAZA’s focus on creating safe and supportive environments play out as youth workers encouraged and talked youth through challenging activities, giving them extra support to help them push their own boundaries and try things that they may not have otherwise attempted.

The Metro Theater used role-play and  improvisational games to help students build  cooperation skills  and  build their capacity to deal with challenges - they showed ways to complete a task when there is a short deadline, how to become a part of a chain that makes change and how to communicate effectively without talking, using the basics of body language! These and many other skills and elements essential for building future leaders were part of the activities.

NAZA’s Literacy Coach delivered a workshop on building character through the introduction of six crucial vocabulary terms (described below) using real-life scenarios and interactive, team-based activities.

  • Creativity – Students learned about artists who “think outside of the box” by transforming everyday materials into sculptures that are unique and beautiful.
  • Responsibility – Students listed to the story of Dr. Wangari Matthai who watched her native Kenya be destroyed by logging She chose take responsibility and help to solve the problem by starting an organization, the Green Belt Movement, that has planted more than 51 million trees.
  • Cooperation – Students viewed a picture of ants who formed a chain to move from one branch to the other. They discussed the metaphor of the picture – if one ant doesn't hold, all of the ants will fall.
  • Perseverance – Students listed to the story of Harriette Thompson who became the oldest person to complete a marathon at age 92 and contemplated how they would persevere through obstacles in their own life.
  • Teamwork – Students learned about the "Final Five" from the Olympic women’s gymnastics competition in Rio this summer. These gymnasts  won a team gold medal by relying on each other’s strengths - combined they were unstoppable.
  • Courage – Students listed to the story of Malala Yousafzai who believed in girls' education in Pakistan and who stood up courageously to the Taliban, even in the face of threats of violence. Students concluded the workshop by writing promises to themselves about how they would enact courage and character in their everyday lives.

Students in the Adventure Science Center workshop built spectacular roller coaster designs by experiencing the Amusement Park Physics STEM Labs, meant to develop their creative thinking and logic through engineering and design.

Lunch was provided in the middle of the day and students participated in a raffle drawing for five spots in a week-long YMCA residential camp next summer. Students left the day exhausted, but ready to stand up as leaders with character when they returned to their schools after fall break.