Cut out to be leaders: 50 students earn SLYCE spot

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Keith Kirkpatrick goes over materials with students and parents during an orientation for the South Shore Leadership Youth for Community Engagement program in Portage, Ind., Jan. 3, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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More information on the South Shore Leadership Youth for Community Engagement program is at (219) 465-6818, or go to www.leadershipnwi.org.

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For Justine Izah, 14, a freshman at La Lumiere School, taking part in the first South Shore Leadership Youth for Community Engagement program, or SLYCE, provides the opportunity to meet students with similar interests and goals.

“I want to go into law eventually, but mostly, I want to learn to be more of a leader,” said Justine, who’s from Crown Point.

That’s the point of SLYCE, which includes 50 students in grades nine, 10 and 11 from high schools throughout a seven-county region. Sponsored by Leadership Northwest Indiana, the yearlong program is meant to build on students’ leadership abilities, with the hope that they will return to the area and use those skills.

“These kids are already leaders in their community,” in their churches, through youth organizations, or at their schools, said Cindy Rojas, the project’s coordinator. “Yet they don’t usually hold a high leadership position, they have a community heart.”

In all, 110 students were nominated for the program by principals, counselors, and others involved with young people, Rojas said. About 65 students were interviewed before 50 were selected for the program, representing about 23 high schools in the area.

The students gathered Jan. 3 at the offices of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commissionin Portage for orientation; another orientation was held Jan. 2 at the Purdue Technology Center in Crown Point.

Kevin Yurasovich, 17, a junior at Munster High School, said SLYCE would give him the chance to meet people from the community he wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.

“I think it’s going to be a great experience. I’m hoping to get a lot of great connections in the community, as well as the ability to be a better leader,” he said.

Leadership Northwest Indiana executive director Keith Kirkpatrick said leadership programs across the country have a youth component. While LNI was founded in 1982, previous attempts at a youth program have stalled until now.

“We are incredibly pleased with the caliber of who we’ve chosen for this program,” he said.

Monica Zaknoun, 16, a junior at Michigan City High School, said she looked forward to being with like-minded, goal-oriented students.

“I definitely want to be able to enhance my abilities to be a leader and think outside the box,” she said. “I think the things I learn in this program are going to help me later in life.”