Building Future Leaders Across the State in Wyoming County

FACTORYVILLE -- In just one week, high school students -- and total strangers -- from all across Northeastern Pennsylvania have come together in one part of Wyoming County and transformed -- all thanks to the Rotary Youth Leadership Association's summer conference.

Students from across 10 counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania gathered on the grounds of Keystone College for the week-long conference. Held as a chance for students to get a taste of collegiate life, it allowed the students to branch out and form friendships with students from all across the region.

"I've really broken out of my shell and gotten to improve my leadership skills, my team building skills, and connecting with kids I wouldn't have the chance to normally," said Leah Jarde of East Stroudsburg South High School. "So, it's really fun to meet people from Dunmore, Tunkhannock when I'm down in the Poconos."

All of the peer leaders on hand were students themselves once -- and they continue to come back year after year. They tell Newswatch 16 that the changes they see in the students extends beyond just the week-long conference.

"So we see, once a shy kid who wasn't really involved in the classroom, start a community service project," said Leila Bouchekouk of the Rotary Youth Leadership Association. "When we follow up with them about a year later, we see that growth continue."

Her colleague Karen DeMatteo concurred.

"They're different when they go home," DeMatteo added. "I have parents tell me, what did you do with my kid, what happened to them, they are a different child by the end of this experience and that is what we hope for all of them."

Leah Jarde has dreams of her own -- hoping to attend the University of Pennsylvania one day. This week, she learned how to really be on her own for the first time -- living in a real college dorm.

"We have a schedule, so you have to be everywhere on time. It's on you, wake yourself up in the morning, do what you have to do, and a lot of time management," she said.

And those students are anxious to use what they learned here in the next steps of their lives.