Importance of leadership skills highlighted at new Naugatuck program for kids

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Children play a game of Monopoly on Tuesday at Western Elementary School in Naugatuck as the Naugatuck YMCA began its 12-week character development program for middle-school-age children. Jim Shannon Republican-American

By Raquel Williamson Republican-American

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck YMCA has introduced a new character development program at Western Elementary School in collaboration with Naugatuck Youth Services that educates children on how to use leadership skills in their everyday lives.

Targeting middle-school-age children from Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Oxford, the five-week program started July 11. The pilot program, called Dare Yourself to Lead, has seven to nine participants each day. The program runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Naugatuck YMCA youth development director Cait Gobstein said the purpose is to bring out the leader that’s inside every child.

“We’re all leaders and have different talents within each of our leadership abilities. That’s what makes being a leader so unique,” she said. “Daring yourself to bring that leader forward is the concept of the whole program.”

Each week has a different theme, based on the six pillars of responsibility.

Mackenzie Mahoney, psychological coordinator for Dare Yourself to Lead, and her co-worker come up with various activities and lesson plans for each day of the program.

“Our first week was trustworthiness and last week was respect,” she said. “This week we are working on responsibility, and after that will be fairness and caring.”

Sherri Beck, operations and fund development director at Naugatuck YMCA, said NYS and the Children’s Leadership Program have come together for Dare Yourself to Lead.

“It’s a great collaboration. We are all working together for the same goal for the kids,” she said.

NYS program manager Sarah Deflumeri visits Dare Yourself to Lead once a week.

“We focus on substance use prevention, mental health promotion, and good citizenship,” she said. “We do discussion groups as well as physical activities to incorporate all of our themes and ideals into making sure the kids are entertained and also learning something.”

Deflumeri said NYS is centered on the idea that you can be a positive influence on the people around you.

Children play a game of Monopoly on Tuesday at Western Elementary School in Naugatuck as the Naugatuck YMCA began its 12-week character development program for middle-school-age children. Jim Shannon Republican-American

“That’s where we start with that leadership style,” she said. “What good things can you do that look good for everyone else around you? You’re setting an example.”

Delumeri said she found that young people at NYS can lack autonomy.

“Sometimes they get too much guidance, or sometimes they are not around trusted adults at all, so they lack guidance,” she said. “We try to instill that ability to take care of themselves in their own mind set, too, by building positive coping skills they can use when there isn’t someone else to turn to.”

The children enrolled in the program were chosen by the school and their teachers as leaders, and wanted them to engage in this experience to build on their existing leadership skills.

Beck said she hopes to see more kids register for the program in the future.

“I think the town needs it,” she said. “We could lead the students who haven’t participated in the program in the right direction.”

Gobstein said she hopes the program continues for many years to come.

“We are hoping that within the fall, youth services wants to stick with us and enjoy our partnership with them so we can bring it into the middle school itself,” she said. “I think that it is an awesome exposure for the young community leaders that we do have to be exposed to what leadership can be.”

Gobstein said she hopes the leaders in the program absorb the characteristics they learned this summer and take them with them.

“Being a leader within Naugatuck is the end goal,” she said, noting how the children already have exhibited personal growth in two-and-a-half weeks. “To be able to bring these lessons to their peers and the community is a goal as well, because one day, all of those kids will most likely be a Naugatuck graduate and they will always have Naugatuck as their home.”