March 5, 2015 02:22 PM

Junior Leadership Program co-chairs Anne Falgout, second from left, and Liz Hebert, second from right, with participants Christian Belaire, Elise Lafleur and Hadley Smith
Photo by Robin May

Education is part of our daily dialogue, whether we are parents, educators, students, anyone with an opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of our school systems. This seems to be more of a prevalent conversation topic these days; you’ll find emails, Facebook groups, folks in the grocery checkout ready to give their 2 cents — or more generous nickel — but how often do you hear about a solution, a solution to redirecting education? A solution to keeping Acadiana’s most industrious in Acadiana industry? How about a little inspiration for our youth so they’ve got the desire to make something worthwhile happen here at home and build on the progressive industry we’ve got in technology and business, and complementing broadening retail landscape? How about keeping our families closer to home?

Acadiana is a diverse community with much to offer young locals who are about to take that next step toward adulthood. Look into what the Junior Leadership Program can do for an Acadiana sophomore you know and find out how to sponsor some of our local, ambitious youth. Application deadline is March 20.

Two women have signed on as co-chairs of the Junior Leadership Program, one of three in the Leadership Institute of Acadiana. There are also scholarships to help offset costs toward the tuition, and sponsors from the community are encouraged to advocate a participant’s $150 tuition. The Cajundome’s Liz Hebert and the Vermilion Parish Economic Development District’s Anne Falgout are alumnae of another Leadership Institute program, Leadership Lafayette (Leadership Lafayette Alumni is the third), and are working closely with boosters Lafayette Consolidated Government, the Lafayette Conventions and Visitors Commission, Our Lady of Lourdes, UL and the Woman’s Foundation on the junior program.

“Junior Leadership of Acadiana is designed to shape the future of our region’s leaders by readying high school juniors for what’s ahead,” Hebert says. “Junior Leadership promotes teamwork, develops leadership skills, fosters self-confidence, personal growth and respect for our community through a series of information sessions and hands-on activities.”

The 25 selected students — whose applications are due by March 20 — attend orientation in May of their sophomore year. These students share their time between regular academic schedules during their junior year and their commitment to program hours. Students learn how local government operates, are introduced to movers and shakers in our local business and technology fields, are taught how to get active in nonprofit opportunities, and they become well-acquainted with the Louisiana State Capitol while on a work-study trip to Baton Rouge. The program ends with a graduation ceremony family and friends are invited to attend.

The Junior Leadership Program, entering its 25th year, functions as a direct call to action for all of Acadiana’s youth, answering the question: What’s here for me? The program teaches students what they can accomplish in Acadiana.

The invaluable hours spent during the program focus on technology, health care, business and volunteerism. Students also participate in a college survival lesson. After completing the program, students begin their college application processes with a distinguished component, and they’ve made connections to varied members of our community who can play the important role of recommender.

The Junior Leadership Program can also potentially connect driven students with internships as they transition into our local workforce. Most important, Hebert emphasizes that “the experience during the program will shape students into socially responsible and civic-minded leaders of Lafayette’s tomorrow.”

A graduate of both Leadership Lafayette and Junior Leadership (class 7), Katherine McCormick values her participation in the program. “Being a part of the program was one of the highlights of my junior year of high school. Getting to interact with my peers from all the different high schools in town while learning about community issues created quite an impact in my life," she says. "I began my senior year of high school with a true appreciation of the place I call home because of this program.”

After completing high school, McCormick went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from LSU then two master’s degrees from Tulane. She worked the last few years as a mental health therapist and in upper administration in community outreach before joining LCG's administration last April.

McCormick continues, “Now, years later, working within city-parish government, I see that getting a taste of our community through the program helped inspire me to always work in some way to improve the community I chose to live in. Lafayette’s Junior Leadership Program helped to make me a better resident, advocate and volunteer for Lafayette.”

Read the Flipping Paper!

While the members of this diverse group of Acadiana women can’t all say they were firsts, each of them has contributed to our community in ways too countless to capture in 500-word profiles ...