Southwestern Michigan College partnered with the Michigan State Police to host the first MiYLA overnight reunion camp July 22-23 for teenage girls who attended week-long Lansing training in 2018.
MiYLA, shorthand for the Michigan Youth Leadership Academy, provides students ages 14-15 with an opportunity to develop leadership skills while building positive relationships with law enforcement officers.
SMC First Lady Sarah Mathews, Cass County Youth Council president and an attorney, talked to the girls about the obstacle of defining what a leader is as they assume leadership roles.
Mathews encouraged them to remember that while there are many stereotypes of what people think a leader should be or who can be a leader that the one thing that truly defines if they will be a leader or not is choices they make — not stereotypes people may try to apply to them.
Mathews commended them for choosing to participate in the MiYLA program, as it was one of what she hoped would be many positive choices in their lives that would define them as future community leaders.
These students spent five days last summer at the Michigan State Police (MSP) Training Academy receiving instruction from hometown officers and the MSP. Participants came from River Valley, Benton Harbor, Lakeshore, Coloma, Watervliet, Eau Claire, Brandywine, Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Marcellus and home schools.
They returned for two days for an introduction to what they can expect from higher education.
“Both days were packed with vital information and activities for students to mentally process when deciding their career pathways,” Paw Paw Trooper Kellie Shaffer said.
They toured the Dowagiac campus, received in-depth guidance from SMC professionals on when and how to complete their FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), how to identify and apply for scholarships and stayed overnight in one of the three residence halls.
Activities included The Canyon, the 3,500-square-foot rock-climbing room in the Student Activity Center featuring a 35-foot wall with more than 40 vertical routes and a 12-foot bouldering wall, the movie “Wonder Woman” and a trip to Edge Adventures in South Bend.
The girls were supportive of one another, whether it was cheering on Kaitlyn Blackmon, who reached the top like an experienced rock climber, or others who shook off certainty they couldn’t do this and persevered, surprising themselves and their peers in the process.
Like rock climbing, the treetop trek on a high-ropes course got them outside their comfort zones to dispel trepidation they felt tackling something new and unknown.
Mentors also included MSP Niles Assistant Post Commander Melinda Logan, Cass County Deputy MaKenzie Kreiner, Berrien County Deputy Vanessa Williams, FBI Special Agent Trisha Kovac and Troopers Kelly Anderson and Heather Svoboda.
“Eighteen girls returned,” Logan said. “A lot stayed in contact with each other. Instructors saw the girls over the last year at school events. Besides how much SMC did to enlighten the girls, they were gifted laptops from Lakeshore Public Schools, a school backpack with supplies from Verizon, motivational T-shirts and the high-ropes course thanks to private donors. A previous instructor/mentor returned to challenge the girls toward developing their skills and talents while her partner in last year’s interviewing course produced a video with a writing challenge opportunity by another group of private donors. I know the girls loved it. They asked if we were doing something again next year.”