In many cases, local high school students go to college and find jobs outside this area. One of the main objectives of the Junior Leadership Merced program is to get youth to return here to live and work.
Twenty high school juniors and seniors with leadership potential graduated from the seven-month program, now in its ninth year, at a dinner and awards ceremony Wednesday night at the Merced Senior Community Center.
"I think the program is very important for juniors and seniors to learn about the community," said Susan Bubenchik, an advocate with the Merced County District Attorney's Victim Witness program. She has been on the steering committee overseeing the program since it began.
"You really see a spark in them come out," Bubenchik said. "It's such an impressive program and opens their eyes to what we have to offer."
Ashley Taylor, a Golden Valley High School student, said Junior Leadership Merced has provided her with many opportunities to discover what Merced has to offer.
Nic Stone, a recruitment and retention specialist at Mercy Medical Center Merced, has been part of the junior leadership program, sponsored by the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, for two years.
Mercy held a career day several months ago. Participants got a behind-the-scenes look at the hospital and adjoining medical pavilion and heard several guest speakers.
"It was a great group of students and they had a bunch of questions," Stone said. "It's a great program that allows students to take part in those areas."
Atwater High School student Luis Robles said the program has prepared him for the future. Lexington Moore, a Livingston High student, said Junior Leadership Merced has something for everybody and participants are exposed to different career paths.
Kathy Wyman, program chairwoman, said sessions include leadership and team building, business and community, college, law enforcement and government-media days. Students also take part in a two-day leadership retreat held at the Jack L. Boyd Outdoor School at Camp Green Meadows.
Students also toured Merced College and UC Merced.
State Sen. Anthony Cannella, Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade, District Attorney Larry Morse and Merced Mayor Stan Thurston were part of Government Day activities.
Students also visited Label Technology, On Target Marketing and learned about other career possibilities.
"The goal of this seven-month program is not only to provide leadership training to our youth but to also open their eyes to the potential of returning to Merced County as adults and becoming a viable member of our community," Wyman said.
"It provides an assortment of mentors and networking opportunities to help the young people improve their skills while learning more about their local community," she said.
Wyman explained that program mentors try to instill a realization in students that they, as leaders, can make a difference. Students are trained in how to survive and thrive in college, the workplace and in life at monthly sessions beginning in September.
"This will be accomplished by stressing the importance of education, networking and life skills to help achieve their full potential as tomorrow's leaders," Wyman said.
Students can apply for the program at their high schools in August or contact the chamber office. There is no charge for the leadership program, with expenses covered by chamber businesses and members.
Barbara Hoffman, president of Hoffman Security Systems, is a longtime member of the leadership program steering committee. She said there is tremendous potential for students to pursue higher education and career opportunities in the local area.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.