By Zenya and Alexandra Molnar, Contributing Writers
Shrewsbury – The T.R.A.I.L.Blazers Shrewsbury Youth Leadership Institute recently wrapped up its fifth year of the week-long leadership program with team presentations resulting in six scholarship winners. The goal of the program, organized by Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services (SYFS), is to give students “the opportunity to practice leadership but also to build their confidence, self-esteem, and knowledge of what it is to be a leader,” said Terry Cassidy, SYFS executive director.
Throughout the five days, T.R.A.I.L.Blazers participants from area high schools competed in group challenges and daily trivia contests, developed leadership skills through creative projects, and attended lectures by guest speakers from the community. SYFS partnered with the Shrewsbury Public Library whose Young Adult Librarian Dan Barbour planned several challenges for the participants to put their leadership skills to use.
All three teams, each consisting of five members, selected from among three town organizations??”the Shrewsbury Public Library, Shrewsbury Media Connection, and SYFS??”for which they needed to complete three community service projects before their final presentations on Friday.
The teams each worked with an organization to determine specific objectives of the organizations. For example, the Yellow Team chose to work with SYFS because the team wanted to increase the presence of SYFS through social networking. Their projects included creating a Twitter feed academic schedule, brochures and a video to showcase what SYFS offers to the community.
The purpose of the three projects was to positively contribute to the organizations through creating printed material, making a public service announcement, and using social media to better connect community members to each organization.
Interested high school students from Shrewsbury and surrounding towns applied to the leadership program and were selected based on their responses to essay questions, such as how they define leadership and what they hoped to learn from the training. Cassidy said that she and the program staff sought students who showed the potential to become strong leaders but who may not have had many opportunities to practice leadership skills.
Before starting the challenges, the participants took a personality test to determine their work styles, and they learned about different types of leadership. Cassidy said that the purpose of the initial test was to allow the students to learn to work in groups with people who have different approaches to problem-solving. Each day a different student with a different personality type led his or her team.
Reilly Brenner, a freshman at Shrewsbury High School and a member of the Blue Team, said that because she has an “expressive” personality, she learned to be more patient.
“Nothing gets accomplished without [teamwork],” she said.
Her team worked with the Shrewsbury Public Library to generate awareness about the upcoming library renovations by creating a bookmark as well as a video for the library's YouTube channel.
The winning team, the Green Team, completed their project for the Shrewsbury Media Connection (SMC). They created a film advertising the SMC and its resources available to the community. They also designed a brochure and started a LinkedIn page.
Cassidy said that T.R.A.I.L.Blazers helps the students connect with the community by becoming familiar with its resources and people. The program also gives the students the “chance to be junior leaders.” She emphasized that youth should stand up for what they believe.
Teams earned points throughout the week in order to determine scholarship winners. The winners were determined based on scores and observations throughout the competition. Shivum Patel won the individual Leadership Award, a $500 scholarship sponsored by the Shrewsbury Federal Credit Union. The Green Team won the Team Award whose members were each awarded $100, sponsored by the Central One Federal Credit Union. The members of the Green Team are James Reardon, Jamie Wei, Sharanya Ganesh, Sreeharsha Potu and Zachary Bryant.