Luke Acquaro and Kaden Herbert at the Juvenile Justice Center Ropes Course

Luke Acquaro and Kaden Herbert at the Juvenile Justice Center Ropes Course

Program teaches confidence, community-mindedness to Georgetown youth

Georgetown High School senior and recent Junior Leadership Georgetown grad Luke Acquaro never imagined he’d be dressed in a mask and scrubs, surveying an operating room and learning about the medical instruments doctors use during surgical procedures. He also never imagined he’d go through “minefield” drills at the Juvenile Detention Center, leading a blindfolded partner through an obstacle course of cones and plastic balls they were forbidden to touch.

But these experiences are par for the course when it comes to Junior Leadership Georgetown, a nine-month program that develops leadership skills in junior- and senior-level high school students.

The program, supported by the fundraising efforts of Georgetown’s Chamber of Commerce, was cofounded in 2005 by nonprofit maven and “habitual joiner” Stephanie Blanck. More than 10 years later, she’s actively recruiting the 2016–2017 class of committed applicants ready to learn more about their communities.

“I want any kid to apply,” says Stephanie. “You don’t have to be college bound. This program is designed to help kids develop their self-worth, confidence, and leadership skills.”

The program kicks off with a weekend retreat in September. On Saturday morning, participants from different schools convene to learn about their personal temperaments and problem-solving styles. They’re also offered opportunities to practice public speaking in front of their peers and given a nickname that will stick with them throughout the program. Then on Sunday, they venture to the Bootys Road Park and participate in a ropes challenge put on by Parks and Recreation ropes instructors.

“You’re probably 30 or 40 feet up in the air, you’re just in a harness, and you have to tightrope and help each other out—teambuilding—that kind of thing,” says Luke, a 2015–2016 participant. “That was a blast! You get to learn the group dynamic, and it was a really good way to introduce ourselves and meet each other. ”

Following the retreat, participants meet monthly at various Georgetown locations. One month they meet at the Boys and Girls Club to learn about asset building; another month they visit Public Safety and meet Chief Nero. Later, they tour the Children’s Advocacy Center to gain awareness and learn what warning signs of abuse might look like.

Luke Acquaro at Georgetown Challenge Course with Taryn Newton, Eliana McDonald and Simone Cothran

Luke Acquaro at Georgetown Challenge Course with Taryn Newton, Eliana McDonald and Simone Cothran

At the end of the program, participants are tasked with giving a final presentation on what they’ve learned and how they’ll implement it. Past participants have concluded with original raps, slide deck presentations, and heartfelt speeches.

“Mrs. Blanck is great, and this program has taught me a lot about leadership,” Luke says. “And if you have a fear of introducing yourself and talking in front of groups, I’d say you definitely have to do this in this kind of setting. Everyone is supportive and growing together.”


Acceptance to the program is on an application basis and is limited to the first 30 committed applicants. For more information on Junior Leadership Georgetown, including access to the 2016–2017 application, visit georgetownchamber.org/leadership-georgetown.

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