Youth: Being effective leaders


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — “There’s a lot of amazing stuff coming out of our youths,” said Don Boucher, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Davenport. He was referring to the ideas and excitement 18 youths shared while attending the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) July 13-18 at St. Ambrose University.

Anne Marie Amacher
Allison Still, left, of St. Mary Parish in Oxford, and Sharyl Woollums of St. Mary Parish in Centerville practice a communication exercise during the Christian Leadership Institue July 16 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

CLI has been canceled the past two years because of low registration, but the size of this year’s group was good to work with, Boucher noted. Fifteen participants were from the Diocese of Davenport, two from the Archdiocese of Dubuque and one from the Diocese of Des Moines.

The program is open to incoming sophomores through seniors in high school to teach young people the skills and values necessary to be effective leaders in a parish or school setting. “It empowers them to lead from a faith perspective.”


CLI teaches the youths about leadership styles, planning programs, group dynamics, facilitation, community, prayer and more. In addition to focusing on a theme each session, the youths plan and lead Morning Prayer, attend Mass each evening and have a social.

“It has been outstanding what this small group can do,” Boucher said.

Communication was the focus of the July 16 session. Boucher asked the youths what effective communication looks like. They answered: loud voice and good pronunciation, attention on the speaker, attentive listening, eye contact, making comments and encouraging a speaker, and not getting distracted. “Communication is not easy,” he said. “Com­munication is something we do all our lives, but it’s the one thing we rarely get instruction on how to do well.”

He had the youths and chaperones divide into pairs to do several exercises in communication.

In the first exercise, person “A” was to describe a place he/she has visited and liked — with eyes closed while telling the story. Person “B” was to listen without saying anything.
Boucher slowly had the listeners move away from their speakers. When the exercise was over, he had each side tell how they felt. Some speakers felt abandoned and said that it was a waste of two minutes of talking. Listeners felt they couldn’t get into the story without eye contact.

In the next exercise, the B people had to describe something, but keep their eyes open. The A people were required to maintain direct eye contact and not drift from the speaker. The B people felt uncomfortable being “stared” at. But one person said he felt he was being listened to because of the direct eye contact. The A people said it seemed like a stare-down contest, that they were forced to do something uncomfortable.

In another exercise the A people had to tell a story, but not use hand gestures. Both sides had to sit on their hands. The B people were allowed to ask questions. Following that exercise, many of the A people said it was hard to communicate without their hands and they had to think harder to give a mental picture.

Later, the B people were allowed to use their hands and the A people had to ignore the speaker. The B people felt their stories were lost; they forgot where they were at in the story and repeated themselves. They missed receiving feedback. The A people said it was easy at first to ignore, but when the B people started using jokes or singing it was hard not to pay attention.
Boucher said effective communication is not just speaking, but getting those receiving the message to respond or interact.

Mathew Townsley of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt said youth minister Pat Sheil convinced him to attend. “I’ve been to other leadership conferences, but not as layered and detailed as this one. There are many good points brought on leadership.”

Kaitlyn Dickey, also from DeWitt, said the small-group experiences were good and she liked the individual attention.

Aaron DeJoode of St. Mary Parish in Pella said he is in various leadership positions and felt this conference offered him ways to improve in communication and effective leadership.

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