Community, Leadership Development, Leadership Training

Special Olympics LEAD Team

As a special education major, you can assume that I am obsessed with Special Olympics. Special Olympics is a way for people with disabilities to be active and have fun in a setting that focuses on them and their personal achievements. Ever since my freshman year of high school I have been volunteering with Special Olympics. I’ve always known that there are events and games that I still have not yet experienced but what I didn’t know is that there were more opportunities for these students than just on the track, in the pool, on the slopes, or in the bowling alley.

As a Leadership Advancement Scholar, we are asked to join a LEAD Team through the Leadership Institute. We are given many options of which teams we would like to join based on what each teams focus is and what you are interested in. OBVIOUSLY when I was told that Special Olympics was one of the options that we had, I had my heart set on it. When people asked me what I put down as my choices as we had to choose three in case some filled up, I told them Special Olympics. When they said “what about the other two”, I literally said “I don’t know I just really want Special Olympics”. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done but truly I just have such a passion for this organization.

What I didn’t know about the Special Olympics LEAD Team was…well, pretty much everything. When I was told that I got the Special Olympics LEAD Team I was ecstatic. Then I realized I didn’t even know what we would be doing. I assumed we would be volunteering at the Special Olympics events and just helping out with whatever they needed. I was wrong and as much as I would have loved doing all of those things, I’m happy that I was wrong because it opened me up to so many new things.

The Special Olympics LEAD Team was focused on putting on a Leadership Conference for both students with and without disabilities. HOW SMART AND AWESOME IS THIS??? I would have never thought that Special Olympics would put on an event like this. I thought Special Olympics just hosted sporting events and competitions but I was so wrong and I was amazed by this.

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Sometimes I forget that not everyone sees themselves as leaders because I see everyone else in that way. Having a conference to show these students that they are leaders regardless of any restrictions that they may have is so important. These students have the ability to make such a difference in their communities and the lives around them but they need people to teach them what that looks like, how they can do that, and to simply encourage them and show them that they are capable of this and that is what this leadership conference is all about. The students went through several activities, lectures and sessions that taught them about different aspects of leadership and how it only takes one person to make a change.

My role in this conference was to be a guide during the day. I had a group of students that my partner and I were responsible for during the day. We would walk them to and from each session and help facilitate during their activities. The most important part of our job as guides was to encourage them and help them take away what they were supposed to from each session. Making sure that they were having fun and understood the purpose of each activity and how it applied to them in their communities and schools was vital to this conference being a success.

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What I took away from this was just as important as what the students took away. First of all I got so many new experiences through this lead team. I have worked with students with disabilities and without disabilities in so many different environments but never in one like this. Gaining this experience of facilitating and managing groups of students in this atmosphere was so new and exciting for me. It also reminded me that EVERYONE needs reminders that they have the power to do the things that they want to. Society can put stereotypes on people and groups and even the people that fall under these stereotypes and groups forget that the limitations put on them are false.. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what circumstances you have, you can make as big or little of a difference that you want. I grew up just knowing this but not everyone has that. This conference reminded me that everyone has those abilities but some people need reminders of that. As a leader in society and an advocate for those specifically with special needs it is my job to be the person to give them those reminders and the tools to be the best that they can.

This conference is so important and just shows that Special Olympics will never fail to amaze. From this conference I now know what kinds of things people should know about leadership and that there truly are no limitations for anyone who wants to be a leader. This was such an important experience as a future educator specifically for students with special needs and I can’t wait to continue instilling these ideas and experiences in the students and advocates of special education around me.

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Community, Leadership Development

“…Exit a Leader”

LAS in the D was an experience that I wish everyone had the opportunity to do. LAS in the D is considered a service trip. We are supposed to go and do things that service those in Detroit. I really and truly did not feel like this was a service trip. I felt like Detroit was doing things for us. Detroit was changing me more than I was changing it.

img_1557In Detroit our first stop was at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. At Jalen Rose we were split into groups and asked to help facilitate ice breakers with the high school students. Ultimately I thought that this was going to be cheesy and awkward but it actually turned out to be some of our students’ favorite parts. We were able to learn more about the students and make connections before we even began doing any real activities. After we spent some time getting to know our students we helped facilitate and participate in some activities working on teamwork and communication. These activities were actually a challenge for me because I found myself over participating in some of the activities. I had to keep reminding myself to let the students have their turn to lead. We then did some debriefing and after just a short time with the students we said our goodbyes and hit the bus.

We then were headed off to Quicken Loans in Detroit. The difference between Jalen Rose and Quicken Loans was outrageous to me. Quicken Loans was a very big expensive building with high security and such nice facilities where just 10 minutes before at Jalen Rose there weren’t very many nice buildings and things. At Quicken Loans we had the opportunity to hear a presentation from the Vice President¬† of Quicken Loans. He told us of the history and what Quicken Loans stands for and all of the different things that Quicken Loans is doing for Detroit. This was an absolutely amazing and eye opening experience. For the rest of the night we had the opportunity to hangout at the Detroit Institute of the Arts and spend the night and learn about the history of the Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center.

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In the morning, we woke up and packed out bags for Cass. Cass is a community organization which helps the homeless get back on their feet. They have kitchens to feed the homeless; donation centers of food, clothes, and housing items, for the homeless; and have a shop where they make rugs out of tires that have been dumped on the street that they sell to make money for the organization. The really cool thing about Cass is that they hire mostly the homeless people that they serve. They give the homeless¬† that second chance because most other companies won’t. Cass also has apartments that they rent out to their employees once they get enough money from working. Ultimately Cass takes people from the lowest of lows and slowly helps them to rebuild their own lives. Nothing is just handed to them but they are given the chance to earn the job and earn the apartment. Cass has many employees that are able to build a resume from working at Cass to help them get out into the workforce and get better paying jobs. This really touched me because nobody ever talks about all of these organizations that are doing amazing things and doing so much to rebuild Detroit and help the people become functioning members of the community. Bringing light to these organizations is so important in making Detroit the city that it deserves to be. LAS volunteered at Cass with these workers who were able to tell us their own stories of what Cass has done for them and I think that if everyone had that opportunity, Detroit would be so different in the eyes of those who have no idea what it really is.

In Detroit we had the opportunity to facilitate leadership activities at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, tour and learn about Quicken Loans, roam through the Detroit Institute of the Arts, stay at the Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center, and then spend our morning volunteering for Cass. With so many different opportunities to learn and grow, I find myself stuck on one moment of our trip.

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Ya know those moments in chick-flicks where the girl has the realization that she loves the boy and the world starts spinning and music starts playing? Yeah I had one of those moments except mine was while I was sitting on a dusty Detroit high school classroom floor and I just realized what I had known all along. In class the week before our trip we had to discuss why we did what we did. What we were passionate about. Ultimately what gets us out of bed in the morning. We then turned this into a why statement. Everyone had a different why statement because they were personal to your passions. My why statement is “Inspire others to find the beauty in everything and seek the things that make them the happiest”. The moment that I had my ‘moment’ was when I realized that I was living and preaching this all along and didn’t even realize it.

img_1598While debriefing about the activities that we had done at Jalen Rose with the students we all got to put in our advice and thoughts. I raised my hand and pointed out the fact that the thing that continuously kept the group going was their positivity. I told them that they just kept trying and having fun with it instead of getting frustrated and angry. I reminded that them we could relate this back to situations in real life and try to find the good in bad situations and have fun with the things that could frustrate us. After I was finished talking I had my moment. I realized that I was teaching students about the things that are most important to me. As someone who is so passionate about education and learning and wants to be a teacher to realize that I am sitting there teaching students about being positive and happy and all of the other things that I’m passionate about and that are important to me was so crazy. I realized that in that exact moment I was doing the things that are the most important to me.

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After the fact I realized that maybe I’d been actually instilling these thoughts and ideas in the people around me all along and didn’t even realize it. Maybe I had been living my passions this whole time before I really knew that those were the things that wake me up in the morning. Being in Detroit gave us so many opportunities to give, and while I think that I did do my part in giving back to Detroit, I think that I took so much more.

I hope to now be more aware of leaving my mark and the things that are important to me anywhere I go. Leaving a lasting mark and impact with the things that matter the most to me on the things that matter most to me was such an inspiring act and I hope to continue doing this from now on wherever I go.

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Leadership Education

A New Kind of Debate

When I heard that I was required to take a debate course for my LAS protocol I immediately got scared. I don’t do conflict. When I think of debate I think of people stuck in their ways trying to convince each other to believe them but having no intentions of really listening to the other side. I was surprised when I walked into this class and on the very first day, Dr. Professor Cory Hillman elaborated that this class would consist of debate through reasoning and knowledge. I really enjoyed this class because it forced us all to think of things from both perspectives. In our debates we had to actually refute what the other person was saying. It was less argumentation and more discussion. I think that what I’ve taken out of this class mostly is to be open minded and see things from all points of view. I’ve learned to realize that there is not always a right way and sometimes there are equal pros and cons to both sides of an argument. Being forced out of my comf0rt zone to argue for things that I don’t necessarily agree with forced me to have to see the other side of an argument and realize that there are pros to everything even if I still don’t agree with it. Overall, I’ve learned being able to accept everyone’s opinion and views is a very very important part of being an effective leader.

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Leadership Education, Leadership Training

Making a Connection

As a Freshman in LAS, we are taken to Central Michigan Universities Leadership Institute Connections Conference. The Connections Conference is held at Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City (yes, we did get to play in the water park).

Going into Connections I really and truly had no idea what to expect. I was thinking something along the lines of a High School Leadership Conference; we all get lanyards and get in groups of people we don’t know, it’s awkward for a minute but then we all get really comfortable doing different leadership activities together. While it was kind of like this, it was not exactly.

When we first got to Connections we all went to our rooms to settle in for a minute, and then we went to this big ballroom where we had an introduction from the Leadership Institute. After the introduction we split into groups based on the ballroom written on our name tags (this I predicted). In the session we discussed some things dealing with leadership on campus and connecting with new people. After this meeting we went back and had dinner at tables based on a different sticker on our name tag (I was still right about the name tag thing I’d like to remind you). At dinner we had conversation cards that we used to get to know the other people at our table. It was really nice to get to know new people on campus and the different things that they’re interested in. After dinner it was water park time.. My mentor, Morgan was unable to go her freshman year, so she came this year with my cohort. Morgan and I spent most of our time obsessing over all of the babies in the water park and walking back and forth from the water slides and the hot tub. We left the water park to get ice cream and shower before we had to be back at the ballroom for a pizza speed dating. Here we just ate pizza and walked around and talked to people that we didn’t know trying to make connections with each other whether it be about leadership or our personal interests. I really liked this because it pushed me out of my comfort zone to meet new people and learn about their interests and passions on campus. After pizza and speed dating, it was time for bed.

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On the second day we woke up and had breakfast and then began our speaking sessions. This was the part that I had never experienced before and I really enjoyed. At every other conference I’d been to, everyone had the same speakers and whoever the conference had was what you got. At connections, there were about 5 different speakers for each of the four sessions. You were allowed to choose whichever speaker you wanted to listen to based on your interests and what you though would be most beneficial for you. After the session was up, five entirely new speakers would arrive and you would pick out of those five who you wanted to see. I really liked this because you were able to pick the speaker that interested you and benefited you the most. A lot of topics I’ve listened to people speak on a million times so it was nice to have options of things I might not have heard about yet. After lunch and those four sessions were over we met back with our original groups to discuss some more things about leadership on campus and how we can apply the things that we’d learned to our roles on campus and in our leadership positions.

Ultimately what I took away from from the Connections Conference is how making connections with people is the best way to learn about and accept the things that we do not understand in our lives. Everyday we see things and lets be honest you wonder what the point of something is or who would ever want to do or have that. Why would anyone ever want to join a squirrel watching club? Who would ever actually want to do that? Good question….. Here’s what I learned: ask. Ask why people are interested in what they are, why they do what they do; you’ll be surprised how much sense that makes and what you may be interested in as well. Try to make connections with the people you think you have no connections with because you will be so surprised.

 

Leadership Development, Leadership Education, Leadership Training

The Spark in My Eyes

As Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. We all make the choices we make because to us, that is the best choice that we can make; that is the best you that you can be in that moment. The challenge we are all faced with daily is ‘is this it? Is this the best we can ever be’.

Let’s just be completely honest here; anyone who regularly attends leadership conferences rarely ever goes into it thinking that they will come out of it a new person with all of these new ideas and philosophies. Every conference pretty much hits the basic points in different ways; the importance of team work, identifying different leadership styles, communication, et cetera, et cetera. Here’s the reality of a leadership: you probably will not learn some great, brand new life changing idea by going to a conference, meeting, training or really anything. Here’s another reality: that does not mean that you are the best that you can be and you know all there is to know; you are never done growing.

I went into Spark Leadership with a pretty good idea of what to expect. First there would be an opening speaker that would motivate you to look deeper into the meaniimg_0518ng of the activities and things that you were about to do (BTW you did great as always, Dan Gaken). You would then get into smaller groups based on the information on your name tag (you know what I’m talking about, the one that always makes you feel a little bit more sophisticated than what you actually are) that you would spend the rest of the day with learning and growing in leadership. You would then do activities that are usually fun, scary, exciting, and frustrating all at the same time and debrief afterward about what you learned and took away from the activity. After having fun with your new friends you would have another speaker or two to remind you of the ways that these new skills can be exemplified in your daily life. At the end you would get your goodies (tshirts are my favorite), fill out some last minute surveys or paperwork for the conference, and say your goodbyes to the people you spent the day with. For anyone that attended Spark Leadership or really any kind of conference or training can probably back me up in saying that this is pretty average. Anyone who has ever been can also say that you will always come out better than what you started regardless of the numerous times you’ve already done any of the activities or heard any of the speakers.

I believe that you learn more from the people whom you go through the activities with than anything. People are different and this shines within leadership. People have different strengths and weaknesses. You are not the best at everything. For a competitive overachiever, this is something that I still struggle to accept and remind myself of everyday. Trainings like Spark Leadership remind me that THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. How lucky am I to be able to learn something from every single person I meet, in an environment where everyone is a stranger? There are endless opportunities to learn from others’ strengths and weaknesses at Spark Leadership and this is my absolute favorite part of anything ‘leadership’.

If you take anything from this blog, please take this: you will never grow to your full potential if you cannot be honest with yourself. Self reflection is a key part in learning and this is one of the biggest things that I took away from Spark Leadership. Look at yourself in the beginning and see your strengths; appreciate them and utilize them. Then, look at your weaknesses and embrace them. Embrace them in everything you can. A leadership training is meant to push those weaknesses and make you better. If you cannot look at yourself and say “okay, this is what I need to be better at”, how will you know when to push yourself. Before Spark Leadership, I recognized that trust and stepping out of my comfort zone is my biggest weakness. I know the areas in which I am good at and I like to stick to them. I am good at giving instruction, I am good at seeing all sides of a situation, I am good at taking charge. But what happens when I choose to ignore those things? What happens when I choose to embrace my weaknesses? Well, my weaknesses become stronger. At Spark Leadership we did an activity where we all had a partner. One of us was blindfolded and one was not. We were told that we were to go through this obstacle course but we were not told that it was filled with mouse traps (yes, they were real and set), randomly placed desks, creepy music, and the noise of random traps going off with our partner. The partner that was not blindfolded had to lead the other through the course without touching them but if they touched any of the obstacles they had to start over. Normally I would have jumped to the role of leading the partner through the course. I had no idea what the course looked like, I did not know my partner, and I had faith that I would be able to lead her easily through the course. Instead of doing this, I asked to be the one blindfolded. This scared me. Bad. I did not know what to expect of the course, who this girl was, or like the fact that I would not be able to see. I chose to do this because before the training I recognized that this was where my weaknesses lay. This is where I wanted to improve my abilities. Being able to recognize that I am not very good at these things and being able to push myself to improve on them is how you get the most out of anything. At Spark Leadership I stepped out of my comfort zone and improved myself because I was able to recognize my own weaknesses.

So yes, every choice that we make is the best choice that we can make with the knowledge and experiences that we have been given. Everything that we do is out of the best parts of our hearts and this I truly believe. Even the most poor decisions are innocent; they are the decisions we make because that is what we have learned to be the best. The decisions that we make now that seem genius may seem silly in five years but right now that is the best we know. The difference between the best decisions and the worst decisions are simply the experiences and knowledge that we have gained. Spark Leadership is one of the experiences that I have taken advantage of to become the best me that I can be.

Leadership Development, Leadership Education

Leadership Safari; Novices Ready to Learn

Novices; plural of novice- someone who is just beginning to do something; someone who is not yet a full member of a community. Synonyms: learner, beginner.

Leadership Safari is a four day program at the beginning of the year for incoming freshmen at Central Michigan University. At Leadership Safari, students have the opportunity to learn about the different aspects of leadership, how leadership is portrayed throughout campus at CMU, and to branch out of their comfort zone to new relationships and experiences. There is no other freshmen orientation that can even be compared to Leadership Safari.

At Leadership Safari, the participants were all broken into small groups of about ten participants and one student safari guide on the very first night. I did not know anyone in my group of black leopards, and I had no clue that I would spend the next four days learning about what kind of experience we were going to get here at CMU through tears, laughter, and anger. I had gone to countless leadership conferences in the past, by this time I thought I was a pro and had done all there was to do at a leadership conference, but I had no idea how all of the things that Safari has to offer can make such a huge impact on someone.

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Coming into this, we were all novices. We were new. Whether you had never attended a leadership conference, never been away from your parents for that long, or were just a new student at CMU this was a new experience for everyone. The truth is, I don’t think anyone came into this expecting what they got out.

Between talking about extremely personal topics with practically strangers, crying to slam poetry, and activities that show you who you really are, this week is hard. This week is exhausting. This week is uncomfortable. This week is sad. This week is happy. This week is only described in one word as “Safari”.

The toughest thing for me during this week was being pushed outside of my comfort zone. I try to hide it because I know that it is not a strength of mine, but I am very shy. I wouldn’t say I don’t like meeting new people or trying new things, but they scare me. Like I said, Safari is full of new things and new people. There is not one activity that you do where you don’t either try a new thing or meet a new person. So having to be out of my comfort zone this entire week was hard for me. I recognized this right away. I recognized within the first hour of Safari that this was going to be a challenge, so in everything that I did, I tried to figure out ways that I could push myself as far as I possibly could.

Recognizing ways that you can push yourself and others around you to be better is one of the most import parts of leadership. By being able to see your own strengths and weaknesses, you are able to act upon them to utilize your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses. Safari was an amazing way to practice the skill of self evaluation and stepping out of your comfort zone because we were constantly doing things to push us to our highest potential.

Leadership Safari opened my eyes to the fact that there is always more to be learned. There is always more to benefit from. There is always more to do. Like I said, the number of leadership conferences I have attended in my years is probably close to record breaking (sorry I’m dramatic, I know). So coming into Safari, I had done a lot of the activities we did. I had heard almost anything that the speakers said somewhere, sometime before; but there was something different about hearing it in a place where everything and everyone is new. There is something to be said about an atmosphere where you are surrounded by people who are there because they want to make a difference. Being in a place like that makes you see things differently. It’s hard to explain, but you realize that there are so many things that are so much bigger than yourself and you start to hear things a little bit differently and start to see things through different eyes. Safari showed that no matter how many times you hear the same speech, no matter how many times you play the same game, no matter how many times you’ve done the trust fall, you are always looking at things from a different set of eyes than you did the last time and there is always more to be taken out of these things than what you may have gotten before.

Overall, Safari is definitely one of those things where you get out what you put in. It is however an experience that is impossible to not take anything out of. I would recommend Leadership Safari to any incoming freshmen. In fact, I think I may even go back next year as a Safari Guide because I’d like to help other freshmen have an as poignant experience as I had.