(Lori Piotrowski) – “The five-hour bus ride home is like a first-class flight—you never want it to end.”
So says Jeffrey Bernard, one of the founders of American Leadership Challenge. This organization that helps teenaged youth learn more about their country and themselves operates weekend and week-long camps throughout Nevada and the U.S.
Seeing the dearth of conservative values being presented in the education system, Phil & Kathy Henry, from Ely, joined forces with several educators and designed a camp curriculum specifically for teens, under the name of Leadership Challenge, LLC. Their students are JROTC cadets from high schools around the southwest. After that first venture in 2004, in 2008 Phil & Kathy took what the group had learned, and along with Jeffrey Bernard formed American Leadership Challenge, LLC.
They began to hone the curriculum to teach young people what conservatism is all about. These Nevada business people began to offer a unique way to teach and mentor youth—to challenge them—to think about issues that affect them and our nation.
American Leadership Challenge is designed to help those same youth learn how to think about the issues that face society and the government and how to handle life’s challenges.
Phil, a former Naval Officer, first worked with Centennial High School’s JROTC program, but the work quickly expanded to Desert Pines JROTC and other schools within the Las Vegas Valley and the southwest. American Leadership Challenge has expanded beyond the JROTC programs of Leadership Challenge Camps, which this summer operated 11 camps, including two back-to-back camps in the Chicago area for the Marine Corps JROTC.
What makes their approach unique? They focus on giving teenagers the opportunity to learn life skills that aren’t taught in the schools, in church, or in after school clubs.
Henry said, “We wanted to bring the technology, the programs, and the processes learned in the personal growth industry to the young people. Teens are an afterthought for the most part and they are never taught the life skills in school necessary to be successful in our free enterprise system.”
He continued, “Can you imagine growing up with the skills you learned as an adult and being able to apply them early on?”
These camp counselors give the youth an opportunity to step up to the challenge of being a leader, learning about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as how to perform when faced with ethical and moral dilemmas.
Henry talked about one program called the Bill of Rights. Much like a relay, groups of teens must collect one Amendment at a time. Unlike a relay, they face obstacles to overcome before they reach the Amendment. The teams must strategize and work together to overcome the difficulties and win.
Bernard commented that without the First Amendment (the right to assemble, the right to free speech, etc.) students frequently opt to get that one first, simply to have the right to get together and discuss strategy. But as they are pelleted with Nerf balls on the course, eventually they decide that the Second Amendment, which would earn them their own Nerf gun for protection, would be a better choice.
“By the time they have all 10 Amendments, they have learned what they are, and they’ll never forget them,” he said.
In another program, Pizza Night, teens learn the value of work, self-reliance, and the welfare state. Counselors ask for help in moving a pile of bricks. Bernard explained the reasoning: “You always have the same 4 or 5 kids who volunteer to help, and the bricks don’t really need to be moved. But in this exercise, after the bricks are moved, we announce that tonight is pizza night, pizza costs $10, and we reward them with a $10 coupon to pay for their pizza.”
“That night,” he continued, “as the teens present their coupons, we start deducting federal taxes, state taxes, and so on. They quickly see that they don’t have enough to pay for the pizza. At that time, the money collected from them as taxes is passed onto the ‘non-helpers’ so they can have pizza.”
Henry laughed as he remembered the program. “The next day, nobody wants to help move bricks because they know that those who didn’t move the bricks got the pizza.”
Bernard said that American Leadership Challenge is focusing more and more on helping young people learn what it means to be a true conservative. “We want to teach them the values that extend beyond fiscal responsibility. Being fiscally responsible but socially liberal, which I’ve seen with my own son, is rampant among young people.”
At camp, these young people learn the value they have as individuals, they become confident as young adults, and they go home with a new idea of what it means to be an American.
Bernard concluded, “This is an organization that teaches kids, through experience, a conservative message over and over again.”
The ultimate goal of American Leadership Challenge is to educate teens in such a way that they will participate in the American system of government by registering and voting in every election, supporting the campaigns of conservative candidates, and possibly considering running for public office themselves someday.
If you’re interested in learning more about American Leadership Challenge, please visit www.americanleadershipchallenge.com