Rachel Mathis feels there isn’t enough support and programming for young leaders in New Brunswick communities so she’s tackling the problem head on.
As a young leader herself, Mathis first started to recognize the gap in mentorship and peer support for young leaders when she was 16. She found much of the advice she was getting only applied to those a bit older.
“I had a lot of leadership opportunities going up, specifically in high school, and the more I started getting into them, I found it was difficult because the question I’d be asking mentors, the answers I would get wouldn’t necessarily be relevant to my age,” Mathis said.
“I didn’t really have leadership education that was also paired with peers. I think that was what was bothering me, was that I didn’t have those people who were the same age to talk to about these problems.”
Spurred by this problem and inspired by Pond-Deshpande programming when she reached university, Mathis set out to create a program of boot camps and workshops that would equip high school students with the tools they’d need to succeed as leaders in their communities. The Invigorate Leaders program is now in its third year.
Mathis is continuing her education in psychology part-time while running and growing Invigorate Leaders. She says she’s able to incorporate her learning into the program curriculum and this allows her to have a healthy balance between school and work life.
Mathis says her feeling that this sort of programming was needed for young leaders turned out to be one held by others as well.
“I’ve found from my interaction with students and community leaders that students in this age range – I work with students in Grade 9 going into Grade 10 – they’re just entering high school so they’re navigating a whole new system and they’re the youngest and whether or not they felt like they had leadership experience in middle school, often when they go into high school, the game changes,” Mathis says.
The program aims to build leadership confidence in students and help them find ways to be more involved in their community. Mathis says this is especially important in more rural communities and the interest they’ve had plenty of interest from community leaders.
This summer, the program will be run in Fredericton, Sussex, Sackville, N.B. and Amherst, N.S. Mathis explains that the morning programming at the boot camps is focused on the specific community where community leaders and organizations come in for in-person interactions with the participants. She says the afternoon curriculum is standardized across locations.
This year will be the first year Invigorate Leaders hires an instructor to facilitate the programming.
“We’re looking to ensure that the people who are running the programming are able to be relevant to the students, whether that means they’re young at heart enough to remember what it was like to be that age and also have relevant experience to be able to inform their questions,” Mathis says.
Mathis says that while the programming is for students going from Grade 9 to Grade 10, they ask for a wide range of students when it comes to nominations made by schools and other youth organizations.
“The camp isn’t just for academic leaders and it’s not just for sports leaders. It’s not just for music leaders or male or female leaders, it’s for all of them,” she says “The power of the program comes from having a really diverse group of students.”
The program will be in the nomination phase until May 14. After that, program organizers will select a group to be interviewed from the nominations and then choose the participants from there.
Through funding from the Pond-Deshpande Centre, Mathis is also developing a manual, to be finished in September, that will be used to franchise the programming. She says this is important because it will allow for a further reach of the program than she can do on her own.