Leadership program aims to equip teens for success in life

Published on Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:43 - Written by BY KELLY GOOCH, kgooch@tylerpaper.com

Alexis Cornelio admits she struggled with forgiveness.

The 18-year-old, a senior at John Tyler High School, said it can be difficult to forgive, but through the Ambassadors of Compassion program, she learned that not doing so can hinder someone from pursuing their career and dreams.

For 17-year-old Xeena Bernal, who also is a senior at John Tyler, the program has been an outlet for her and other students to talk about their life experiences.

“We talk about the experiences we’ve had,” she said. “It’s a big eye-opener to have us say it out loud.”

Miss Cornelio and Miss Bernal are two Tyler high school students who have participated in the first Ambassadors of Compassion program in Texas.

The leadership program, which has been active in several other states, aims to positively influence young people and equip them for success in life.

During the program, some area high school students participate in a 12-week journey in which they learn about the four principles of LIFE: labor, influence, forgiveness and experiences.

Each week community members, who have agreed to be coaches, visit participating campuses and work with small groups of students for about one hour.

Students keep journals throughout the program, so they can chronicle their experience.

Ambassadors of Compassion groups also must do a labor project, said Cindy Rudd, Texas director for Lift Up America’s Ambassadors of Compassion. For instance, one group planted flowers and cleaned up a flowerbed at Robert E. Lee High School, while another made crosses for Hospice of East Texas.

There are 10 local groups, all of which will be finished with the program by May 22.

Ms. Rudd said on May 29, students who’ve completed the Ambassadors of Compassion program will have an opportunity to go to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where they will receive a private tour and a certificate of completion.

Ambassadors of Compassion coach Ken Hawk, who facilitates a group at John Tyler, said going through the 12-week program has been a great experience, and he has worked with a great group of students. His particular group has consistently had four participants.

He said his objective is “to help the students unleash the inner greatness that I believe rests within us all.”

Students might be dealing with a situation that could interfere with them reaching that “inner greatness.” It could be external factors, such as family, money or their environment, he said, or internal factors such as not knowing how someone becomes successful or how to navigate common life experiences. That’s where the program comes in.

“It gives these kids a skill set the moment they learn them and for the rest of their lives,” Hawk said. “They became more aware of who they were.”

Echoing Hawk’s sentiments, Ms. Rudd also had positive things to say about the program.

She said the students’ transformation since the January kickoff event has been remarkable.

“They now walk everywhere with confidence and (make) eye contact,” she said.

Additionally, Ms. Rudd said the students have built incredible bonds with each other, as well as with their coaches, and that it has been rewarding and thrilling to see relationships that have developed.

In fact, she said, she believes coaches may be getting more out of the program than the students.

She said coaches are passionate and caring and want to spend time with their group each week. They also have online manuals they can look at to help guide discussion.

As far as the students, Ms. Rudd said two words come to mind: “transformation” and “resiliency.”

“It’s all about them, how they view the world and giving them a chance to be heard,” she said.

She said students who are part of Ambassadors of Compassion are either nominated for the program or choose to be part of it.

So far, the Ambassadors of Compassion program has only been offered to high school students. However, a middle school program will launch in the fall, and there will be another 12-week program for high school students.

In the meantime, Ambassadors of Compassion has received scholarships for students to attend a National Flight Academy weeklong camp in Pensacola, Fla.

Ms. Rudd said scholarships are available for 36 students to go this fall and 36 students to go in summer 2015. However, she said money is still being raised for travel costs.

Staff Writer Emily Guevara contributed to this story.