Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Spencer Schwartz, Ben Gerstein, Kelly Kogen, and Colman Adams!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Maddie Brim, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Spencer Schwartz

Spencer Schwartz is a current senior at Niles North High School. She is the president of both her student government and Hebrew National Honor Society, and is a member of her school’s dance marathon executive board. She has been involved with the Diller Teen Fellows program for two years, serving as a junior counselor during her senior year to help participants through their own Diller experiences. As a StandWithUs high school intern, Spencer works to enhance Israel's image in the eyes of the world. She recognizes the importance of her Jewish identity and feels obligated to express that aspect of herself with her community.

She has worked as a leader in the Jewish community in order to inspire other leaders and community members. Spencer continues to empower those around her, including friends and classmates, by connecting with the broader world. Spencer uses Israel advocacy, the most prominent aspect of her Jewish involvement, to educate herself and teach others accurately about her Jewish homeland, which she calls her home. Spencer says, “When looking for new opportunities do not be intimidated, and recognize that there are so many aspects of the Jewish community to be involved in. The beautiful thing about the Jewish world is its multifaceted nature. Each person has a place, whether in advocacy, summer camp, prayer, etc., and each personality type is strengthened through the Jewish peoplehood. You become an integral part of a wonderful Jewish masterpiece.”

Ben Gerstein

Ben Gerstein continues to advocate for a better tomorrow for the Jewish community.  He is the founder of Deerfield High School’s pro-Israel club, a Write On for Israel fellow and a freelance Israel-related columnist for the Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel. He manages his own political site, www.bgerstein.com, which aims to introduce a new perspective on pro-Israel issues. Ben has even lobbied Senator Tammy Duckworth, encouraging her to speak at the Jewish National Fund's Yom Ha'aztmaut Celebration. He believes that supporting Israel is a pressing issue in today’s society, and he wants to help prepare and train high school students to be strong supporters of Israel in college. Ben’s passion allows him to succeed in getting his opinion heard. Ben suggests others search for a subject, issue or cause that speaks to them and capitalize on that desire, and he hopes to inspire his peers to create amazing change.

Kelly Kogan

Rather than give up after being diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Kelly Kogen uses her persistence to prove the world wrong about the ability of those with special needs. Kelly attends Glenbrook North High School, though her school work isn’t all that keeps her busy, as Kelly is also a cheerleader at school. Her favorite part of cheerleading is how fun the atmosphere is at the games. Kelly has also been involved in theater, as she absolutely loves being on stage. When it comes to her involvement in her Jewish community, JCC’s Apachi Day Camp was where Kelly first found her fit within the Jewish community. She is still an avid camp-attendee, but she is also now a helper at her synagogue’s Sunday school as well. Last summer, Kelly participated in the Staff in Training program at Camp Chi, a place very near and dear to Kelly. By being fully included in all of the camp activities, Kelly is able to do all of the things that her peers do at camp, which she really loves.  

When Kelly first started spending her summers as a camper, she also started taking Sunday school classes during the school year.  She was in a typical class with all of her friends at school, and when she got to eighth grade, she was able to have her Bat Mitzvah, right alongside her Jewish friends and classmates. Being able to do what all of her friends did and to be able to do it right alongside them was a life-changing experience for Kelly.  Kelly continues to be a leader because she loves helping other people, and giving them the same loving feelings she has gotten through her own inclusive communities. If any of her peers want to get involved in the Jewish community, Kelly strongly believes that they should go for it because it is such a truly a place where everyone belongs.  Everyone she has come into contact with has been so accepting and understanding of who she is as a person. If the whole world acted the same way as everyone Kelly has met at camp and within her community, Kelly believes the world would be a better place. 

Colman Adams

Not being afraid to be himself is one thing, Colman Adams, a senior at Lane Tech High School continues to promote as a leader in his community. In a room full of people, Colman describes himself as “the person making a fool of themselves” because he believes leaders can’t be afraid. Being self-confident, and able to speak his mind are some of the many leadership qualities Colman continues to uphold as an outstanding teen in the Chicago area. Of course, he knows that there are times when he has to be serious, and in that kind of situation he enjoys being a leader who truly listens to those around him.As a junior counselor for the Diller Teen Fellows program, and previously as a fellow of the program, Colman has learned how to mentor others and help them to further their own accomplishments. Colman also works as the current Vice President of Religion and Education for his chapter of USY, serves as the co-president of his school’s Jewish Student Connection club, participates in his school’s orchestra, managing the girls softball team, and sits as the sole student member on his school’s local student council, which is involved with making decisions on the school's budget and principal selection. Loving to make others laugh and helping other people have a good time is what Coleman truly loves about being a leader. Even if it’s 7 am in the morning and nobody wants to be awake, Colman is the person yelling his head off and being silly.

Colman’s advice to those looking to get more involved in the community would be to come to a variety of events or programs and then pick what is right for you.  When Colman’s parents dragged him to his first USY event, he begged them to pick him up early due, his old youth director, named Rabbi Russo, made a huge came up to Colman with a huge smile, made him feel welcomed, and made a difference in Colman’s experience from then on out with USY. After he then was introduced to the other teens at the event, Colman felt included. From that point on, Colman has continued to help others find their fit, especially when it comes to USY or to Diller.

Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Rachel Aranyi, Syd Bakal, Emma Milner-Gorvine, Kalman Strauss, and Lillie Murphy!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Avery Hessel, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Rachel Aranyi

Rachel Aranyi
contributes to both her secular and her Jewish community. Rachel is a Chicago Diller Teen Fellow and a member of Congregation Beth Judea. She also participates with AIPAC and BBYO. Rachel is a legislative intern for State Representative Carol Sente and has been for over two years. She is the co-founder and president of the Stevenson High School Lean In Women's Leadership and Feminism Club. Her club fosters an inclusive environment through advertising campaigns and enlisting insightful speakers such as the Dean of Northwestern's Law school and Illinois's Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. Rachel was selected for participation in Stevenson's Student Leadership Academy. Rachel is a member of Stevenson High School's Student Leadership Advisory Committee. She earned membership into the National Honor Society. She regularly volunteers in service activities such as being a class leader for Stevenson's annual Give-A-Thon, and raising money for physically challenged adults as a Project Dance group leader. Rachel is a three-sport varsity letter winner for field hockey, fencing and soccer. Rachel is the Women's Midwest Regional Epee Fencing Champion (2016, 2017) and the Illinois High School Epee Champion (2017). She is a 2017/2018 Captain of the Stevenson Fencing Team. She is a member of her school's Ethics Bowl Team which recently won regionals. 

Syd Bakal

Syd Bakal is a Junior at Barrington High School. They are currently the Social Vice President on their youth group board at Beth Tikvah Congregation. Syd is constantly looking for ways to exercise their passion for music, as well as equality. Syd co-led a song leading program at their temple, founded their school’s Gay Straight Alliance, participated in theater, and joined the youth committee for Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. One awesome thing that Syd is working on is organizing their school’s Speak Out program, a unique program where people of different backgrounds present speeches to create awareness and inclusivity. Syd sings, dances, and plays guitar and ukulele. When speaking about their connection to the Jewish community they have found as a teen, Syd says that going to their Temple is their lifeboat. “It’s my safe space in which I am bonding with other Jews," they say. They live in a community with few Jews and feels a special bond with other Jews in non-Jewish communities, as it makes all of their experiences more unique.

Syd describes themselves as very community-focused, having been a part of so many great communities from NFTY CAR to The Jewish Council on Urban Affair’s Or Tzedek program. Building a community is the most important part of being a leader to Syd. Syd feels that Jewish teens are sometimes afraid of a Judaism that won’t accept them for who they are. “Judaism is a religion that welcomes interpretation. We have been struggling and reinterpreting since the beginning. We are community bound by complexity and nuance. There is enough room for anyone and everyone who wants a place to think, pray, and find community."

Emma Milner-Gorvine

Emma Milner-Gorvine
is a passionate senior at Evanston Township High School. She is involved in cross-country, group promoting women in STEM, Student Ambassadors, and her school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Emma is also President of her youth group and a Madricha at her synagogue, Beth Emet the Free Synagogue. Lastly, Emma is very involved politically and involved in interning at a mayoral campaign, organizing phone banking at the Democratic Party office, and participating in a Rosh Chodesh Jewish Feminist group. She has felt connected to Judaism from a young age. She wants to give back what the community has given to her. To her, the Jewish community is a unique community with amazing friends and values.

Emma describes herself as very outgoing and spontaneous. “Sometimes I don’t plan until the day of,” she says. She is better at stepping forward, doing, and saying. She gets more anxious if a speech is planned rather than not. To anyone looking to get involved with Judaism, she says you should start at your local synagogue, youth group, Hebrew course, or look into Israeli culture. “Don’t be nervous to create something yourself,” she says.

Kalman Strauss

Kalman Strauss is a high school freshman in the city of Chicago. He plays violin and mandolin and sings at Shabbat services as part of Mishkan Chicago’s Davening Team, which he says, "tries to create a spiritual and meaningful atmosphere for people's prayer." At Mishkan, he has also performed Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, composed music for services, and even recorded a CD. He loves being a part of Mishkan Chicago, a community which he says is "spiritual, musical, intellectual, thoughtful, and truly inclusive--basically a model of how I strive to be." In addition, Kalman studies Talmud with Svara, a "traditionally radical Yeshiva" based here in Chicago, which he says has been "nothing short of life changing." He is also a participant in Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, a JUF program where teens learn about professional philanthropy and grant-making through a Jewish lens. In addition to his work with the Jewish community, Kalman has a passion for nature and for teaching others to appreciate and protect small natural wonders, such as moss and birds, and he volunteers extensively in this area. Kalman would describe himself as someone who tries to move and connect people, especially through music. He states, "Music is one of the most universal of all languages, so it is a great way to connect people to their feelings and to one another, whatever their backgrounds." To those looking to get more involved in the Jewish community, he would suggest casting a wide net. "The Jewish community and heritage is very diverse and rich," he says, "so don't get discouraged if you don't like one aspect. Just keep searching and experimenting." He says he has been especially inspired by several Jewish women in the community, noting his gratitude for Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago, Stephanie Goldfarb of JUF's Voices Program, and Rabbi Benay Lappe of Svara.

Lillie Murphy

Not only does Lillie Murphy have an outgoing and exciting personality on the outside, but she has the passion on the inside to match. Almost every opportunity in the Jewish community that Lillie has been presented with, she has said yes to. Whether it is going to Camp Chi, where she has now been going for six summers, or being involved with the JCC through their Chi Town Connection Board and Project Teen Seed 613 program, she loves getting to meet new people and jump right into the excitement. Lillie is also heavily involved with USY, where she sits on her chapter board as the Membership Kadima Vice President at West Suburban Temple Har Zion. Her role there ranges from working with the 6th-8th graders to planning the regional convention. It wasn’t until USY that Lillie truly felt connected to the Jewish community and found her own fit. After she met other Jews in Chicago and stared making friends and deep connections, she felt more connected to the community as a whole. She knew then that getting involved in even more activities and making more friends would make her feel even more at home. One thing Lillie really enjoys is helping others, which is why she joined the Gesher Committee in USY, a committee designed to help new members make connections and feel welcomed. This desire to help others is also why she signed up to be a Madricha at her synagogue, where she individually aids younger kids with their assignments and classroom responsibilities. As previously mentioned, her latest endeavor is the JCC’s Project Teen Seed 613, a program for high school girls to create a non-profit, learn about business and Judaism, and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills. 

Lillie feels that being a leader is important because “I am able to guide people who are uncomfortable, shy, or young to a place where they feel happy, included, and comfortable.” If she could give her peers advice, she would tell them to branch out and try extremely new things. When Lillie went to camp for the first time, she was terrified, but if she hadn’t have gone then she never would be where she is, in the community and in her life, today.

Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Daphne Budin, Michael Rubin, Abby Tzinberg, and Gabriella Cooperman!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Evie Katz-Palka, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Daphne Budin

Daphne Budin is very honored and excited to be selected for 18 under 18. Daphne is a part of USY, BBYO, and goes to Camp Ramah Wisconsin, a Conservative Jewish camp in Northern Wisconsin. She attends Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. One admirable thing that she loves to do in her free time is volunteer at a home for the elderly, making arts and crafts and bringing light to the residents’ lives. Daphne thinks that having meaningful interactions with others, and helping the community she lives in, makes for a strong leader. Another way that Daphne feels someone can be a leader in their community is by leading by example, and that when you can give to your community, others will feed off of it and do the same. Daphne initially got involved in her Jewish community because she loved the feeling of meeting new people, and being with her Jewish friends has made her high school experience so much more enjoyable. “Being a part of the Jewish community is a good way to put yourself out there, makes you a better person as well as shows a different side of yourself and all the above makes you feel good!” Daphne said. Overall, Daphne is a great influence on the Jewish community and we are so excited to be honoring her at 18 Under 18. 

Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin first got involved in the Jewish community around 8th grade because he wanted to find his own unique Jewish identity. Since then, he became heavily involved in USY, specifically in CHUSY, the Chicagoland chapter, as well as a Madrich at his synagogue. His mom came from a Conservative Jewish family, while his dad came from a Reform Jewish family. Even though his parents had Jewish identities, Michael did not feel that his identity was as strong as it could be and that his Jewish identity wasn’t as big of a part of his life as it had potential for. This is why he decided to get involved in many different aspects of the Jewish community. He is now is a part of both the Reform and Conservative movements, taking a little after both of his parents. He sees himself as a leader who takes a stand when needed, he feels natural in the position and believes people look up to him. Michael's advice to someone in search of getting involved, coming from his own experience, is “find your own voice in Judaism, find your own place. Be powerful!” He is extremely honored to be one of the 18 Under 18 Honorees and feels greatly thankful for all that he has been able to accomplish and be a part of during the last four years of high school. Being a leader has made him a better person and Michael has really made an impact on the Jewish community, especially in USY which he has loved. 

Abby Tzinberg

Abby Tzinberg was so thrilled when she found out she was being picked, out of so many wonderful people, to be one of the 18 Under 18 Honorees! Abby does a number of activities both inside and outside of the Jewish community, and is thrilled to be recognized for all of her accomplishments. She is a Madricha at her Synagogue, a B’nai Mitzvah tutor for sixth graders, an assistant for children with special needs, an avid youth group participant in NFTY, an OSRUI camper, and a passionate participant in Or Tzedek, The Jewish Council on Urban Affair’s teen Social Justice program. Originally, Abby started getting involved in her youth group because her Cantor, as well as another friend, encouraged her to go to an event and just try it out. After her first event, she immediately knew that she loved it and was excited to get even more involved in her youth group, and the community overall. She kept going to more and more events, meeting new people and finding her voice. She feels that youth group has made herself a better person and shown her that she can be a strong and vibrant leader. Other things she does outside of the Jewish Community include participating in Speech Team and musicals.  Abby sees herself as a leader that is responsible and is able to lead others with compassion and respect. She believes that instead of patronizing those younger or less experienced, leading by example is the best way to be a leader and guide others. Abby is an extraordinary person and is a great leader in the community. 

Gabriella Cooperman

Meet Gabriella Cooperman, one of our stellar teens who manages to be involved in many different aspects of the Jewish community, all while maintaining poise and commitment to her obligations. She is a part of USY, Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, the JUF Hebrew Engagement Committee, and Jewish Student Connection (JSC). One thing that makes Gabriella so unique is the fact that, at such a young age, she has already started not one, but two different charities! She got involved in USY because her friend said she should run for Freshman Representative on the board. So she started going to events and fell in love. Now she is on USY’s International Board. She joined JSC because her teacher said it would be extra credit but it turned out to be something she really loved doing. As for her charities, she saw a need and wanted to help. Gabriella sees herself as a good and strong leader. She thinks that there is a time to shine and a time to step back and let others shine. An example she gave was that she has been a part of the cast and crew in the theatre world, which taught her to know when to help to let others shine and when it's her turn. Gabriella's advice for any other teens thinking about getting more involved and finding their fit within the community is, “Never be afraid of that awkward conversation. The part of the conversation when you first introduce yourself is hard, but it is worth it.” Lastly, Gabriella likes to be a friendly face in her community and feel recognized as someone who is a leader and can help mentor others. When giving advice to her peers about whether or not to dive into different programs, youth groups, or opportunities, Gabriella says, “Take a step and see.” We are so excited Gabriella took that step, and can’t wait to honor her this Tuesday at 18 Under 18!

Meet Some of Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Maddie Brim, Joey Greenebaum, Quincy Hirt, Chloe Wagner, and Rebecca Greenstein!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Emily Fridland, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they each were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities. 

Maddie Brim

If you don’t already know Maddie Brim, she is definitely someone who you will want to get to know. She got involved in the Jewish community as a teen because she wanted to connect to her roots and traditions. Tradition is simply defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, yet it is so much more than that. Growing up, she was able to look up to her parents and older siblings as role models for every activity she participated in. Being connected to her roots, and specifically her immediate family, is crucial to her as she grows up and becomes more involved in society. As she continues her journey to become a better Jew by helping spread good in the world, she says, “I look up to my family, and think of the amazing things they have accomplished, which gives me the passion and dedication to keep on working towards tomorrow.”

Whether it is her involvement with USY, or as a frequent JSC member, Maddie values the variety of Jewish programming throughout the community. She attends Camp Chi each summer, and this year will be a member of the SIT (staff in training) class of 2017. In addition to her involvement in the Jewish community, she has played field hockey on the JV team at Adlai E. Stevenson High School for the past two years, and been a member of Stevenson’s student council. In Maddie’s philosophy, leadership is not about a title or a designation. It's about impact, influence and inspiration. As a leader, Maddie would describe herself as a mentor, despite her young age.  

Maddie wants all Jewish teens to find the connections and ties in the community that she has.  She says:

“Despite the numerous opportunities that exist for us, there are few teens that really take advantage of them. Simple things like learning to understand the Hebrew in song and prayer can help create strong connections, just as I and my peers experienced as students in the Hebrew School program. Also, participating in USY gives us time to experience prayer as a community, which gives a new meaning to the same old songs. Like the Rabbis, Cantors, and teachers, Jewish teen leaders must display the passion we should all have for Judaism as a whole, modeling ahavat yisrael, our love for the Jewish people, ahavat Hashem, love of God, as well as the teachings from our torah, the mitzvot and commandments. If you still feel disconnected from Judaism, there are so many “Jewish” programs that explore other aspects of life besides prayer. With this in mind, I believe that one must really go out of their comfort zone to find what they enjoy doing in the community.

Joey Greenebaum

One of our amazing honorees, Joey Greenebaum, is involved in all sorts of activities. Joey is currently a senior at Homewood Flossmoor High School living in the south suburbs of Chicago. He has been participating in BBYO since the eighth grade and is now the president of the Chicago region. He also plays lacrosse and is a member of his school’s choir. Ever since he was a child, he was involved in the Jewish community. He attended a Jewish camp for three years but did not quite feel the deep Jewish connection he was hoping for. He was looking to understand his identity as a Jewish teen in the world on a global scale. After joining BBYO he found a deeper Jewish identity and has been exploring it ever since.

Joey would describe himself as a very verbal leader. He likes to help other teens develop their leadership skills and by letting them “take the reins” sometimes. By being a mediator as well as leading by example, he believes everyone in his chapter and region can be involved and happy. Joey’s Jewish identity is not based on being “religious” but it is about embracing Jewish values like making a difference in the world. Some advice he would give to teens looking to get involved in the Jewish community would be to get out of your comfort zone. He says, “If you are not looking to be very religious then you do not need to worry because being involved does not mean you have to be. However, getting involved begins with being selfless and willing. You must want to help others and try new things.”

 Quincy Hirt

Quincy Hirt is the youngest of three siblings.. He is a senior at Whitney Young High School in the city, where he serves as the captain of the volleyball team, president of the Jewish Student Connection, senior class president, and in his spare time is involved in Spanish honor society. He is a four-year member of Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, where he learned about philanthropy and grant-making.  Quincy started a nonprofit with a few friends. Their organization is called Chicago Youth Alliance for Climate Advocacy and helps spread awareness as well as taking action about climate change. He went to a Jewish day school before High School and has always been very involved in the Jewish community. He is a very positive person who likes to have fun and surround himself with like-minded people.

When Quincy graduated from Jewish day school he wanted to find a way to stay engaged in the community. He tried BBYO but ended up not continuing. He now participates in Jewish Student Connection at school, as well as Voices outside of school, because he really loves those connections to the Jewish community. He believes being Jewish is about living by the values the community has set and seeks out opportunities to work with teens and adults who share the same values.

Quincy describes himself as a very hands-on leader. He likes to lead but takes pride in knowing when to step back and let other try doing the task at hand. He always tries to act in the best interests of the group and to include everyone. He is charismatic and has a loud voice, which can help him take control of a room. He believes teens need to find their passion. He says, “There are so many different organizations you can join and many ways you can get involved. No matter what you want to do, get involved by using your passions from outside the Jewish community and bring them in. Get out there and try something; if you don’t like it, you can try so many other things. But definitely try!”

 Chloe Wagner

Chloe Wagner is a 16-year-old from Chicago and she is already an activist. She is the social action chair for the youth group at her congregation, Temple Shalom. She is the co-founder of Chicago Youth Take Action, and co- founder of Illinois Youth Chapter for Women’s March on Washington. At school she is the head of Students for Gender Equality and a member of The Queer-Straight Alliance Chloe is a participant in Research Training Internship, an exclusive, year-long program training female-identified Jewish teens in Participatory Action Research. When she is not involved in activist and social justice programs, Chloe is a figure skater.

From her involvement in so many activities, you might be surprised to know that Chloe moved to Chicago only a year and a half ago. She wanted to be involved in programs outside of school, so she turned to her Temple Youth Group and found it was a great place to be for social justice and Judaism. She is passionate about social justice and also loves working on teams or in groups. As a leader, she tries to gain perspective on everyone she is working with. Her advice for other teens is to “Just join…seek out your youth group because everyone is supportive and helpful and you will make friends and memories. It is so important to be involved as a teen!”

Rebecca Greenstein

Rebecca Greenstein is a senior at New Trier High School, and has had a wonderful time throughout the last few years getting involved in her community. On a more personal note, she has three siblings and is uniquely left handed. As far as being involved in her community, she currently works at her synagogue’s library, spends summers at Camp Ramah, and is immerses herself in CHUSY, her USY chapter. She currently holds the position of Religion and Education Vice President on the regional executive board of CHUSY, a very impressive position. As if that leadership role wasn't enough, she is also the co-president of Israel club at school, as well as the director of her school play. Rebecca enjoys traveling (especially to Israel), swimming, singing, dancing, and attending summer camp. Rebecca and her family has always been very involved in the Jewish Community, so she has grown up with seeing how important community was. Growing up at her synagogue, Rebecca saw her older cousins participating in their youth group, so she followed their lead and her involvement in the community developed from there on. As a leader, she would describe herself as a good listener, as well as someone who is compassionate, friendly, and kind. She holds a big leadership role in USY, and with this large role comes a large responsibility. She pushes people in her region to try new things and leave their comfort zone, but she also knows when to make them feel comfortable and be supportive. Lastly, through this position with USY, Rebecca has used learned that in order to be a strong leader, she has to always be kind and offer her help to others. She would tell her peers looking to get involved that they should find one friend they know who is involved in something, whether it is a youth group, a camp, or a program, and ask them about their experience because people are always happy to speak about their positive experiences and welcome in new individuals.