"There's a superhero in all of us," according to Deb Stocker, University of Illinois Extension specialist in 4-H Youth Development.
More than 100 seventh- and eighth-graders learned ways to sharpen those "superhero" leadership skills at the 2014 Illinois 4-H Junior Leadership Conference last month in Decatur.
With the theme "Saving the World Through Leadership," the young people learned that they can begin to change the world by taking action in their local 4-H clubs and their local communities, Stocker said.
DuPage County youth from Naperville and Elmhurst attending the conference included Prateek Dullur, Alex Ford, Adarsh Mattu and Jacek Kulak.
Kulak, an eighth-grader from Naperville, said he learned different things to improve his social, teamwork and leadership skills, and he looks forward to sharing the new knowledge with his 4-H Club, the Ku Du's.
"I think JLC will impact my whole club because I really want to do the activities with them," he said. "4-H helps me learn new and fun skills that I can use now and in college."
Rod Stoll, Farm Credit Illinois public relations vice president and Illinois 4-H alum, inspired the 4-H members to keep improving themselves, stretch their possibilities, live in genuine gratitude, serve others and keep a young-at-heart attitude.
"Remember, you're a work in progress and you're going to make mistakes," Stoll said. "Embrace opportunities to stretch yourself by connecting with people who are not like you."
He encouraged the 4-H members to find 10 things each day to be thankful for and live in genuine gratitude as they strive to be of service to others.
"As 4-H members, we are all about serving others," Stoll said.
An energetic, enthusiast champion for 4-H, Stoll asked the 4-H members what they would take away from the conference, and the junior high attendees' answers showed wisdom and insight gained from the workshop lessons: "I want to be the leader other people don't want to work to be," wrote one attendee. Another responded, "I learned to take a piece of knowledge from everyone I meet."
"I learned the power of teamwork is greater than anyone's power on their own," wrote one participant, while others focused on leadership: "Leadership is nothing without listeners" and "Leadership can't be forced on others."
Naperville's Kulak said he enjoyed seeing the Illinois 4-H Youth Leadership Team in action.
"I think the most memorable part of JLC was the leaders. They were fun!" he said.
The conference was taught by members of the Illinois 4-H Youth Leadership Team, a team of trained high school- and college-aged 4-H members and young adult 4-H alumni. A portion of the conference expenses was covered by the Illinois 4-H Foundation.
For information on 4-H programs, call (630) 955-1123 or visit web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/.