Thirty students from 14 high schools within Lafayette Parish convened at the Performance Center at Vermilionville on Monday for the first of nine sessions in the Brent Henley Youth Leadership Program.
The students, who are all set to be juniors when the school year gets underway, were chosen out of 72 applicants by a committee after submitting an application and writing an essay explaining why they should be chosen to be part of the project.
“The purpose of the youth program is to create tomorrow’s leaders, today,” Broussard Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Stacy Romero said. “So, we’re working with juniors in high school and exposing them to everything about our communities — healthcare, education, government, and first-responders.”
It is the first year of the program, which is in honor of Henley, who died Aug. 8, 2021.
“Henley was instrumental in creating leaders across the Gulf South,” Romero said. “He was very important when it came to hosting events like Leadership Lafayette, Leadership Vermilion and Leadership Iberia. He was also the driving force of the creation of Leadership Louisiana.”
The 30 students selected are from 14 schools across Lafayette Parish, according to Romero.
“We decided there was a missing piece,” Romero said. “We had all been through leadership courses with Brent. We all wish we had done it earlier. So, we decided to put together a leadership program for the youth of our area. The goal moving forward is to have representation from every school in Lafayette Parish.”
Initially, the plan was to begin the program in the fall of 2023, but after a number of discussions it was decided to expedite things and kick it off this year with applications being accepted during the spring.
“I really wanted to get involved with serving the community and learning new things about leadership,” said 16-year-old Mya Arceneaux of Teurlings Catholic. “We are not taught how to be good leaders every day, so it is really good to have this opportunity to just be able to grow with people who also want to grow.”
“I wanted to be part of this program so that I could make a huge impact on the community,” said Myla’Shay Harris, a 16-year-old at David Thibodaux. “I really wanted to learn more about being a leader and serving your community. I was so excited when I found out that I had been selected. I know I’m going to enjoy it.”
Once the inaugural class completes the program, if they choose to continue with the program, they can be placed on the board of a non-profit during their senior year as a non-voting member as a senior.
“They’ll serve in that capacity during their senior year of high school and the reason behind that is we want to teach them how vital non-profits are,” Romero said. “We feel if we can get them in on that level, they get to see how non-profit works and how it aligns with the community.”
Romero said it is all about giving the youth as many options as possible to determine which path they’d like to take after graduating high school.
“By creating those leaders who are going to lead in the future, we also hope to be creating a workforce pipeline,” Romero said. “After graduation, we’re going to work with them and set them up with local companies who are willing to take on interns. Our hope is that they are immersed in our community to a point where they love it and want to be a part of it for the long term.”