Big Kid

San Diego Youth Leadership Programs

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Kids Take Charge!Equipping young people with leadership skills can help them develop into successful, productive citizens who will responsibly care for themselves, their families and the community at large in the future. Many local organizations offer leadership-training programs for children and teens, here are some examples:

Kids Korps

2210 Encinitas Blvd. Ste. N, Encinitas

Kids Korps USA is a nonprofit organization that engages youth (ages 5–25) in community service, and civic leadership is one of its signature programs.

“Teen leadership is open to membership, 13–18 year olds, and it focuses on volunteerism and service work,” says Brian Hawkins, a causemarketing consultant for Kids Korps.

The Teen Korps members develop leadership through hands-on experiences with cooperative volunteerism, task orientation and focus on outcomes. Teen Korps members can register to help at more than 25 weekly service projects, act as mentors for other kids, start a Teen Korps chapter in their own school, join a quarterly task force to work on long-term community issues or participate in the Teen Korps Teen Council where they can develop their own projects with the help of Kids Korps staff.

“Part of leadership is assessing community needs and developing their own programs, and supporting and sustaining programs such as seasonal projects, like Feed-a-Family each winter, and Build-a-Bike in early spring,” says Hawkins.

In addition, Kids Korps offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities on their project calendar each month. For instance, January’s options include: study buddies for elementary school students needing help in English, reading, math and art; training for Meals on Wheels; help with resources for the homeless; support activities for the San Diego Food Bank; assist with therapeutic horsemanship programs; wildlife sanctuary maintenance; native plant rescue and garden work; military family food distribution; sorting and packing food for Feeding America; peer mentorship for theater and dance program, and more. 

Membership categories include individual teens/children or family packages. Service areas are throughout the county.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego
115 W. Woodward Ave., Escondido
866-SDYOUTH (866-739-6884)

With many locations throughout the county, the Boys and Girls Clubs offer a variety of leadership development and service programs for youth. For example, the Torch Clubs are small-group leadership clubs for boys and girls ages 11–13. Keystone Clubs are for teens ages 14–18 with activities involving community service, character development, education, career exploration, unity, free enterprise and social recreation.

Jenna Druck Center
2820 Roosevelt Rd. Ste. 200, San Diego

The Jenna Druck Center offers the Spirit of Leadership program to local young women by hosting conferences, leadership workshops and “Girl Talk” sessions for local middle and high school girls, where they learn the skills to become effective community leaders.

Workshops take place throughout the year at various locations, many at Liberty Station in Point Loma. To attend a workshop, girls can go to the website, sign-up for the newsletter, and then RSVP through e-mail.

The nonprofit organization’s program calendar includes leadership, such as “Be the Change!” and “Be True 2 You!” as well as the Girls Unite summer day camp, Building Bridges adult and parent workshops and a mentor event. The Annual Spirit of Leadership Conference features keynote speakers, special guests, mentoring experiences, interactive exercises and the presentation of Spirit of Leadership Awards.

4-H Youth Development
University of California Cooperative Extension, San Diego County
9335 Hazard Way, San Diego

One of the defining goals of the 4-H program is to help young people develop leadership and be of service to others. Kids ages 5–19 can participate in local clubs, countywide special interest projects or curriculum enrichment programs through a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, federal, state and local governments, state land-grant universities and volunteers.  The largest youth program in the United States, 4-H Youth Development is a federal program that is implemented within the state by the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Girl Scouts
San Diego – Imperial Council
1231 Upas St.
619-298-8391; 800-643-4789

Girl Scouts USA celebrates its centennial anniversary this year, and helping young women build leadership skills has been a core goal since the very beginning. They have outlined a key formula for use within their many programs to help guide their members: “Discover + Connect + Take Action = Leadership.” The San Diego-Imperial Council boasts more than 30,000 youth members who participate in a wide variety of enrichment program options for girls and young women that explore career paths, community service, wilderness skills, cultural studies and much more. All girls ages 5–17 are welcome.

Boy Scouts
San Diego – Imperial Council
1207 Upas St.
619-298-6121; 866-437-2272

For more than a century, Boys Scouts of America has been devoted to preparing youth for responsible citizenship by instilling in them ethical ideals and moral values to be used in leadership capacities. In 2010 alone, more than 2.7 million scouts completed more than 28 million community service hours. The program includes Cub Scouts for boys in 1st through 5th grades; Boy Scouts for boys ages 11–17, Varsity Scouting for young men ages 14–17; and Venturing for both young men and women, ages 14–20.

YMCA Youth & Government
YMCA of San Diego County
3708 Ruffin Rd., San Diego; 858-292-YMCA

The YMCA of San Diego County Youth & Government program is designed to not only instill leadership qualities, but also to let members role-play leadership positions within the California State Legislature and State court systems. The six-month program for high school students allows them the opportunity to act as delegates, create model legislation, work on court cases and attend annual Model Legislation and Court conferences. The program is available at several YMCA locations throughout the county.

Cynthia Winters is a freelance writer in Chula Vista.