MICHIGAN CITY – Middle schoolers enrolled in the seventh annual Michigan City Police Department Youth Leadership Academy spent the first part of summer break hard at work – learning what it takes to be a leader.
"The Youth Leadership Academy exists to empower the next generation of leaders,” Police Chief Mark Swistek said.
From June 24-28, the academy featured an impressive lineup of speakers including Officer Dion Campbell on “Principles of Leadership,” Charlie Roberts from the Bank of England on “Leading Through Community Giving,” and La Porte County Sheriff's Capt. Andy Hynek on “Leading Through World Travels.”
Katie Eaton, president of the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce, was part of a Career Panel with Blake Applegate, CPA with Applegate & Company; City Councilman Sean Fitzpatrick, and Joey Walker Jr., a Michigan City High School graduate and sailor in the U.S. Navy.
“During the panel, I explained my position with the Chamber and the path I took to get there,” Eaton said. “We talked about the key skills that employers look for when hiring – like being on time, continuous learning and a positive attitude.
"I really wanted to convey that they can start learning these key life skills now if they take advantage of opportunities like the Academy and continue spending time in positive environments.”
Eaton called the Academy "a great opportunity for our youth in Michigan City to learn about choosing the right path, opportunities in our community, and to meet positive leaders.”
This was the third year that Nathan Patrick, a graduate of the first Youth Leadership Academy in 2013, served as a Youth Counselor for the program.
“I jump at the opportunity. I love it. I really do,” said Patrick, a City Council candidate. “This is very important because it shows the children that police do so much more than arrest people. Kids find out what every aspect of the MCPD does.”
He said being in the class instilled leadership qualities and inspired him to become part of the new Michigan City Youth Commission.
He also talked about the impact of a field trip to tour the La Porte County Jail, where Sherriff John Boyd addressed the students.
“The kids learned that they get good food – that it’s not just slop,” he said, explaining that students talked to prisoners who were lamenting time forever lost with family.
Student Ella Frever said she was most impacted by the prisoners.
“They had good advice for us,” she said. “They said to stay on the right track and watch who you hang out with.”
Malik Corley said the visit to the jail also left an impression on him.
“We went to the jail and we heard three people who were arrested on drug charges and what we shouldn’t do,” he said.
Corley said he learned that police officers do more than arrest people. “They do so much more and are important pieces of the community, helping out in a lot of ways.”
Both Frever and Brady O’Malley said they especially enjoyed the Law Enforcement Challenge that involved a course maneuvered through by students driving a golf cart.
The group also took action on what they learned – they cleaned up the beach and zoo at Washington Park on Friday.
Splitting into groups of two, they were equipped with gloves, plastic bags and special tally sheets to keep track of whatever trash they found. They were also instructed not to pick up glass or needles, but to call a camp leader.
Corley’s beach partner, Ethan Cushway, admitted he wasn’t overly excited to head to the Academy on Monday morning after his parents signed him up, but his attitude changed once he got involved and engaged.
“You can make new friends and see older friends,” he said.
In addition to the tour of the jail and listening to Sherioff John Boyd, the middle-schoolers toured the Michigan City Police Department, played Juvenile Justice Jeopardy, watched a K-9 demonstration, and saw a SWAT Team demonstration.
They also toured City Hall and talked with Mayor Ron Meer during one session; then traveled to the La Porte County Courthouse during another and heard presentations by Judge Michael Bergerson, Deputy Prosecutor Elizabeth Boehm, Judge Richard Stalbrink and Magistrate John Link.
On the last day, state Rep. Pat Boy talked about the qualities of leadership.
She told the students about the four ways good leaders achieve success: Make their environment better; know their team and themselves, maintain a positive attitude through good times and challenging times, and, build the next generation of leaders.
Boy talked about her 15 years on the Common Council and her current position as a freshman legislator.
"I want you to notice that I didn’t say I led any of those organizations. I served them,” she emphasized. "I still don’t want to be the boss.
"Building a team of individuals to work together and accomplish objectives, and giving them the power to do that without standing over them and giving orders is a rewarding experience. I’m still serving, and still trying to lead by example rather than by position.”
Boy also gave attendees Harvard Business Schools’ six characteristics of an effective leader: The ability to influence others; balancing hard truths with optimism.
“You might not have thought about this, but understand that you now have a duty to apply what you’ve learned in this program," Boy said. "You can teach others about leadership by your example.
"Be a role model for your friends. Don’t let negativity from others prevent you from doing what you know is right – it’s not what others think about you that is important, but rather what you know about yourselves. Please try to remember that as you continue to make a difference in making Michigan City a better place through your leadership.”