December 16, 2011

Will Begley, a junior at Washington County High School, has lived in the county his whole life and knows it is the place he wants to return to and eventually raise a family of his own. So he jumped at the chance to participate in Teen Leadership Washington County.

“I really like the smallness and closeness of the community,” he said. “Here you’re an individual, and I want my kids to have the same experiences I’ve had.”

Begley is just one of 18 high school juniors and seniors selected to participate in the program that teaches young Washington Countians about their community and community leadership. The program is led by Roberta Hunt, the county’s 4H Youth development agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and Jaclyn Jones, community education director for the Washington County Board of Education.

A committee of adult graduates of Leadership Washington County developed the teen leadership program. They planned the program based on their experiences.  

“They thought what they learned was so important that the teens should know this information too,” Hunt said. “It was also a way to get the teens to attain ownership of their community with the ultimate goal of having them come back and live in the community after college.”

In August, the 11th group of students began the program. The students explore all facets of the community from government to business to agriculture. They are able to see first-hand the community’s progress and areas where it could use some improvement. Those who complete the requirements, which include attending several community organizations’ meetings, interviewing community members and attending Teen Leadership events, will graduate in April.

“I’ve watched their attitudes, camaraderie and respectfulness of their peers and community advance and grow through this program,” Jones said. “Their love of the county and its history is remarkable.”

Nell Hayden is the director of Springfield’s Main Street Program and the Opera House. She led the group on a tour of Springfield.

“This program really clarifies the differences between city and county governments, what it takes to run a city and the different departments of city government,” she said. “Educating young people is one of the biggest components of my job, not just about downtown, but about its history.”

Hunt said the entire community is involved in helping put on this program, which is funded by donations from local organizations, industries and government.