By Kody Stoebig and photos by Marissa Vang
FRESNO– On Saturday, Jan. 24, dozens of students from Fresno and the surrounding area gathered at Fresno City Hall for the 6th Annual Youth Leadership Conference. This event, organized by the City of Fresno Parks, After School, Recreation Community Services (PARCS) was a celebration of the jobs program in Fresno high schools.
The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Watts. Dr. Watts is a motivational speaker and author, and is the founder of Watts and Associates, a consulting firm that aids organizations in their professional development.
He spoke the students about the importance of being present, about being disciplined and, most importantly, about learning to be a follower before you become a leader. He told them that emergent leaders come from followers who have mastered the art of following. He encouraged each of them to use every instance of leading or following to learn and mature.
Marissa Vang, 15, remembered Dr. Watts’ lecture, saying that what stood out to her most was his emphasis on a leader first mastering the art of following.
Students arrived by bus and were greeted at 8 AM with breakfast and several entertainers, including comedian Ken McCoy and radio hosts Greg and Dre from Q97.
Assistant City Manager Renena Smith and newly elected District One Council Member Esmeralda Soria gave brief remarks to start the conference.
Each woman spoke to the teenaged attendees about their positions in local government, what what was expected of each of them in these jobs and the importance of being the first women elected to these responsibilities.
Smith spoke about the importance of constant learning and growth as a leader. She said, “The best leaders are those that are transformative, that inspire others to act.” She went on to encourage each of them to find their passions and to remember that with teamwork comes diversity, which is what allows truly impactful work to occur. Soria focused on how humbled she was to be there with the students and how important she believed it was for the students to see people who truly represented them on their city councils.
After the speakers were finished the students were divided into groups and sent to two different sessions. One session focused on FAFSA and was led by Dr. Gloria Ponce Rodriguez from Fresno Unified School District, who told students, student-athletes especially, to always put the focus on their education. Her motto was “student first, athlete second.”
The second session was led by Fresno Barrios Unidos (FBU). Staffers from FBU tasked each student with filling out two forms: one that asked them to name five positive things about themselves and then describe where they see themselves in five years and the other, entitled “Destino and My Future,” asked them to picture where they would be in ten years and what they needed to do (or not do) to achieve that. This session was filled with discussions and sharing as they had volunteers share their goals aloud.
The 2015 Youth Leadership Conference ended by raffling off prizes to students. Prizes included televisions, laptops and headphones.
The event was made possible by Fresno PARCS, Q97, The GAP, Fresno Barrios Unidos and Fresno Unified School District.