For years, the different high schools within Porter County have come together and held the Porter County Leadership Conference (PCLC), a unique student-led program started by the Valparaiso Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs to help students grow and become strong leaders. On Monday, February 13, Portage High School hosted the 34th PCLC – the first conference the high schools have been able to hold since the start of the pandemic. Students and volunteers from eight Porter County high schools came together to grow, celebrate youth leadership, and connect with others in a way they never had before.
Each year, the student leaders in charge of planning the PCLC choose a different theme. This year’s theme was the power of connection; all of the activities and conversation topics were centered around what it means to be connected and the impact connection can have.
The conference started off with a speech from Speaker Brandon Lee White about how incredible connection is and why we should seek out opportunities to link with one another in meaningful ways. To drive his point home, Mr. White told a touching story about how he once bought a homeless man a pair of new shoes.
“After I bought him the shoes, I said a prayer for him and I told him, ‘I hope your life gets better.’ He said to me, ‘It already has.’ At that moment, I created a possibility. I didn’t just connect a person with a pair of shoes – I connected a person to myself. It’s so simple nowadays to connect virtually and through social media, but that’s easy. That’s not the good stuff. The good stuff is a little awkward and a little uncomfortable and it takes a bit of work, but in the end, it’s worth it,” said Mr. White.
To further demonstrate the power of good connection, Mr. White invited a student up to spontaneously do the tango with him. The kids rolled with laughter as Mr. White clumsily lifted and twirled the student around.
“I just thought it was very motivational and inspiring, and of course, it gave everyone a good laugh,” said Lorelei Goetz, a sophomore at Washington Township High School and one of the student leaders who helped plan the event.
After the presentation and impromptu dance lesson, the students split off into groups to take part in different activities. At one station, students made cards of encouragement for children in Riley Children’s Hospital and played the Human Knot game to strengthen their teamwork skills. At another station, kids got to put their dancing and networking skills to the test.
To encourage connection among the different schools, each student was given beads with their school colors. The students were asked to exchange beads with kids from other schools so that at the end of the day when they made their bracelets they would represent all of the different high schools.
Students and volunteers were also invited to donate games, coloring books, and different coloring utensils. All donations will be given to organizations within Porter County to help facilitate connection and love toward people in need.
Overall, the day was the perfect opportunity for young student leaders to learn more about connection and put what they learned into practice. Barbara Kruszyski-Rea, Key Club advisor at Washington Township High School, couldn’t say enough about how proud she was of the students. She hopes that the conference continues to grow so that more kids’ lives can be touched.
“I really hope to see this continue. I love the fact that we are building student leaders. The kids who were on the planning committee had to come up with all of this. They had to plan it out and create the topics and videos, so it did so much for building their leadership skills. We just can't wait to build this program up, but even if we can only make a difference in just a handful of kids each year, it's worth it,” said Kruszyski-Rea.
Of course, the conference wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community. The Valparaiso Kiwanis Club has always been a huge sponsor of the conference. Tim Bucher, owner of Bucher Tech and president of the Valparaiso Kiwanis Club, spoke about how much it means to him and the Kiwanis Club to be able to support the students.
“We've got some great kids in the high schools, and we're very excited that they want to get involved and help. A lot of times, kids are perceived as not wanting to help and just wanting things for themselves, but these kids aren’t like that at all. They want to help other people, and conferences like this help them and give them the direction and leadership they need to grow into great adults. Helping put on this conference is our way of giving back to the community and building up our youth for the future,” said Bucher.
Family Express, the Kouts Lions Club, the Valparaiso Rotary Club, and Birky’s Catering also made this special program possible for students.
The 34th Porter County Leadership Conference was ultimately a huge success. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the students left the event feeling more confident in themselves and their ability to connect with others.
To learn more about Bucher Tech, visit buchertech.com.
To learn more about Brandon Lee White, visit brandonleewhite.com.