Earlier this month, two Clay Community School Corporation students took advantage of an opportunity to further their leadership skills.
Northview High School freshman Drake McKee, 15, and North Clay Middle School eighth-grader Rebecca Rudisell, 13, attended the National Young Leaders State Conference in Indianapolis, Feb. 4-7, which took place at the Sheraton Hotel.
Drake is the son of Eric and Susan McKee, while Rebecca is the daughter of Curtis and Judy Rudisell.
According to the organization's website, www.cylc.org/NYLC/, it is "designed to instruct and enrich promising students in a hands-on, experiential atmosphere while preparing them for a lifetime of leadership."
According to the organization, the program offers students opportunities to discuss current events and issues, analyze concepts that they immediately put to work, while also offering creative decision-making simulations that challenge the students to solve problems and lead peers through various exercises while also maintaining an exciting environment.
Both Drake and Rebecca were invited to attend the conference.
"I read (the invitation) and was almost speechless," Drake continued. "I read it and thought what an opportunity."
"I received a letter and was invited to go," Rebecca added. "I was excited about it."
While in the fifth-grade at Cornerstone Christian Academy, Rebecca had been nominated by her teacher, Janet Baker, to attend the Junior National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., but was unable to attend, giving her more reason to want to be at the Indianapolis conference.
Drake's father, Eric McKee, said he had heard of other students within the corporation that attended the conference.
"I talked with their parents," he said, "and found out it was a real good opportunity. That's when we got the ball rolling."
The Clay County duo said during the first day of the conference, students were split into three groups based on age. The groups were named after rivers and both area students were assigned to the Mississippi group.
While there, they endured a grueling schedule of seminars that helped hone leadership skills.
There was a commencement at the conclusion of the conference, and Rebecca was one of the featured speakers.
"My topic was, "why did my parents send me here,'" she said. "And it was to develop leadership skills and become less shy, which worked."
While at the conference, Drake said program coordinators helped identify weaknesses with the students. His was his disdain of speaking in front of people.
"They forced me out of my shell," Drake said.
He said just recently, while taking part in a high school science fair, he had to present in front of his class and then in front of a judge. Attending the conference helped him with the project.
"I have retained a lot of it," he said. "They kept everything positive and they made (learning) more fun. The counselors were very upbeat."
His parents have also noticed a significant change in him since he attended the event.
"He grew," Eric said. "I can tell a difference in him."
Rebecca's parents concurred.
"She talks more now at home than she did," her father Curtis said.
After attending the four-day conference, both Drake and Rebecca felt they came away with the necessary leadership skills it provided. They both added they would recommend the conference for other students.
"I've noticed that, in school, when we break into projects, I'm willing to step up," Drake said, "and ask, 'who's got ideas,' and be a leader and organize."
"In my classes, I usually didn't want to answer questions, but now I raise my hand and answer questions," Rebecca added.