This summer, I was honored to speak to a crop of West Virginia’s young leaders who were participating in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) program, and, once again, my faith in our future was reaffirmed by many I spoke to that day.
During my remarks to the select group of high school sophomores, I had challenged them to take the bull by the horns and be aggressive in fulfilling their personal commitments to community service. I suggested they seize every available opportunity to learn and educate themselves. So, imagine my delight when I received a call from a proud grandpaw saying his granddaughter had attended HOBY; she had listened to my suggestions; and wanted to stop by my office in Washington, while her family and she would be in town this summer.
A few weeks later, Meredith from Wayne County stopped by to spend some time taking a tour of the U.S. Capitol building and to learn about what responsibilities a Member of Congress has through conversations with members of my staff. Meredith’s initiative is the type of leadership qualities we need to nurture within our students.
Programs like HOBY, the American Legion’s Boys and Girls State, and West Virginia Know Your State Government Day individually and collectively foster knowledge about our governmental institutions and processes. They also develop leadership skills and demonstrate the need to work together to achieve the public good. Thank goodness these programs have seasoned volunteers, who, year after year, devote their time, talents and seemingly inexhaustible energies to share their know-how and wisdom with our future leaders.
Each of us in public service, likewise, has a responsibility to encourage young talent to consider public service and contributing to their communities. Meredith’s trip to the nation’s Capitol was a good start. I asked Meredith if she would mind reflecting on her memorable experiences at HOBY. I want to share some of her recollections with you below. I think you will agree, Meredith learned a lot, and our state and country surely will benefit from it.
Here is what she shared with me:
“HOBY was a wonderful experience in that it featured key community leaders to speak and inspire my peers and me towards leadership in our communities and success for our future careers. At HOBY, we participated in many hands-on activities, such as Model United Nations, a college fair, and a community service project where we could apply what we had been learning. The experience at HOBY really taught me more about becoming a better leader, better citizen, and planning for my future college studies.
“At HOBY, we had the privilege to hear from Congressman Rahall. Community, commitment, and compromise were three principles he defined as powerful tools when serving the community.
“With the principle of community, the Congressman noted that as we make friends throughout our life and become involved in our community, we develop an awesome network of friends who can give us advice and resources. Yet, he also advised that as we develop relationships, it is important to remember that we need to be able and willing to assist them with their needs as well. Congressman Rahall said that this builds trust and respect which are very important.
“Commitment was the second principle that Congressman Rahall spoke about. He taught us that long term, enduring commitments pay off for the community as well as for ourselves. I also learned that if you pledge yourself as a volunteer, you need to look at it as a contract with the organization or person and fulfill your commitment.
“Congressman Rahall’s final principle was compromise. He said that ‘if you compromise as a means to move the project forward, it does not dilute or shortchange your values or beliefs.’ I learned that knowing what your values are is important in deciding how to compromise and still move a project forward. In fact, our country’s forefathers used compromise many times and one could even say that it is the bedrock of our country’s foundation.
“In addition, Congressman Rahall quoted the verse in the Bible that ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ I really respected that because it reminds me that the Lord has given me many wonderful experiences, such as HOBY, and that I need to use those skills and experiences to make a difference in my community.
“HOBY was a wonderful experience that taught me so much about my community and the leadership tools I use to influence the world around me. Not to mention, that I had a fun time and made great, lifelong friends with fellow West Virginians. I am very thankful for the HOBY experience and highly recommend HOBY to anyone interested.”
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.)