By Raquel Williamson Republican-American
NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck YMCA has launched a new character development program at Western Elementary School in conjunction with Naugatuck Youth Services that teaches children how to use leadership skills in their daily lives.
Targeting middle school-aged children in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Oxford, the five-week program kicked off July 11. The pilot program, called Dare Yourself to Lead, has seven to nine participants each day. The program runs from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Naugatuck YMCA Director of Youth Development Cait Gobstein said the goal is to bring out the leader that is inside every child.
“We are all leaders and have different talents in each of our leadership abilities. That’s what makes being a leader so unique,” she said. “Dare yourself to advance this leader is the concept of the whole program.”
Each week has a different theme, based on the six pillars of responsibility.
Mackenzie Mahoney, psychological coordinator of Dare Yourself to Lead, and her colleague provide various activities and lesson plans for each day of the program.
“Our first week was reliability and last week was respect,” she said. “This week we are working on responsibility, and after that it will be fairness and benevolence.”
Sherri Beck, director of operations and fund development at the Naugatuck YMCA, said NYS and the Children’s Leadership Program have come together to Dare to Lead.
“It’s a great collaboration. We are all working together for the same goal for children,” she said.
NYS Program Manager Sarah Deflumeri visits Dare Yourself to Lead once a week.
“We focus on preventing substance use, promoting mental health and good citizenship,” she said. “We hold discussion groups as well as physical activities to incorporate all of our themes and ideals to ensure that the children are entertained and also learn something.”
Deflumeri said NYS is all about the idea that you can have a positive influence on the people around you.
“That’s where we start with this style of leadership,” she said. “What good things can you do that please everyone around you? You lead by example.
Delumeri said she found young people in NYS can lack autonomy.
“Sometimes they get too much guidance, or sometimes they don’t have any trusted adults around them at all, so they lack guidance,” she said. “We also try to instill this ability to take care of themselves in their own mindset, developing positive coping skills that they can use when there is no one else around. who to turn to.”
The children in the program were chosen by the school and their teachers as leaders, and wanted them to engage in this experience to build on their existing leadership skills.
Beck said she hopes to see more children enroll in the program in the future.
“I think the city needs it,” she said. “We could point students who didn’t participate in the program in the right direction.
Gobstein said she hopes the program will continue for many years to come.
“We hope that in the fall, youth services will want to stay with us and take advantage of our partnership with them so that we can integrate it into the college itself,” she said. “I think it’s a great exposure for young community leaders that we need to be exposed to what leadership can be.”
Gobstein said she hopes program leaders absorb the characteristics they learned this summer and take them with them.
“Being a leader within Naugatuck is the end goal,” she said, noting that the kids have already shown personal growth in two and a half weeks. “Being able to bring those lessons to their peers and the community is also a goal because one day all of these kids will most likely graduate from Naugatuck and they will always call Naugatuck home.”