Summit County community leaders offer advice to local youth |

Summit County community leaders offer advice to local youth

Melanie Wong
SOS Outreach Development Manager

FRISCO – On Tuesday a group of youth had the chance to learn from several community leaders and local heroes as part of a leadership panel hosted by youth charity SOS Outreach.

More than 30 students were all participants in SOS’s youth leadership program – throughout the season, the students have volunteered in the community and learned character and leadership skills both on the slopes and off. On Tuesday night in Frisco, it was their turn to get some advice from community leaders and experts in their fields as they questioned the panel about everything from their own advocacy issues to their thoughts on what it takes to build a community.

This is the second year youth nonprofit SOS Outreach has hosted the forum. Besides learning from the speakers, the students also helped choose the panelists and organize the event as part of their involvement in the SOS program.

“The panel is a good mix of community leaders and everyday heroes in Summit,” said SOS Summit County programs director Theresa Papandrea. “We’ve been preparing and learning about being a leader and an advocate, so I think it will really be great for the youth to hear what the people they believe are leaders have to say. I think it will really affect the students.”

The students peppered the panel with tough inquiries about their goals and leadership development.

Panelist Brad Sawtell, an avalanche forecaster and educator, while telling students why he wanted to be a community leader, said his position began with a passion for his field.

“First it was my love for snow and interest in the backcountry. Then I had mentors who taught me how to put on a different pair of glasses to teach and educate others,” he said. “The outdoors is a great learning environment, and I’m teaching people how to keep themselves safe. I think of it as backdoor leadership.”

Nicky DeFord, charitable contributions manager for Vail Resorts Echo, advised students that in order to become a good leader, they had to learn from their experiences and from others. The first step is sticking to your values, she said.

“You don’t consciously decide to be a leader, but you consciously decide to have integrity,” DeFord said. “You look at the multitude of times that your experiences and learning from everyone has helped to develop your leadership role. It’s about being able to adapt and listen to others.”

While students asked questions drawing on the panelists’ areas of expertise and leadership skills, they also asked questions that don’t necessarily become irrelevant with age or experience.

“What do you hope to do in the future?” asked student Jack Cline.

“Do you ever ask yourself in the morning, ‘What am I going to do with my life?'” asked student Dylan Wilkerson.

Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said the questions from the students caused him to think about the fundamental reasons of why he became a leader.

Later in small group discussions with the students, he said the students asked deep and probing questions and also had lively discussions about some of the community’s most pressing issues, such as transportation problems and interstate traffic.

“I was honored to participate in this panel and extremely impressed with the participants’ questions,” Gibbs said. “This will give me a lot to think about. It was inspiring to talk about solutions to complex problems with future leaders.”

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