By Jennifer Johnson
For more than 30 years, a group in Australia has led a three-stage program to help teenage boys transition from boyhood to adulthood. Last year Christ’s Church of the Valley (San Dimas, CA) launched the program for its own young men.
Leadership USA is designed in one-week stages spread out over three years, with boys starting stage one at age 15 and completing stage three at 17. “THIS IS NOT SUMMER CAMP” the church’s webpage explains; instead, it is an intense and challenging experience designed to help the participants grow spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.
“When I visited the Australian program, I was struck by the very first exercise,” says Dane Johnson, associate pastor of men and marriage at CCV. “The leaders asked the boys to identify the ‘moral moorings’ of their lives, the values that guide their decisions. They named things like honesty, integrity, and family. Then the leaders said, ‘There are no rules this week. Instead, you are expected to live by these moral posts you’ve driven into the ground. Make your decisions accordingly.’ The boys are challenged to think through what it really means to live with integrity or honesty, and none of them wants to be the guy who lets down the group. In all my experiences there, I’ve never heard a leader have to raise his voice to a kid.”
But each of the weeks involves more than simply good conduct. In stage one, the students discover who they are—a doer, a thinker, or a feeler—and how that contributes to a team. (Read Jennifer Johnson’s related column.) Each group eats, sleeps, plays, and works together and participates in experiences that teach problem solving, conflict resolution, communication, and outdoor survival in the Angeles National Forest.
Stage two includes three nights and four days in the wilderness, after being equipped with survival skills and some food, and the challenge of crafting their life mission statement. In stage three they complete their mission statements and share them with the group.
Although CCV only began the Leadership USA program last year, it launched with 16 boys in stage one. This year 14 of those will return for stage two and another 32 will start stage one. Johnson expects the program, currently staffed entirely by male volunteers from the church, to continue to grow.
Visit www.ccvsocal.com/adults/men/leadership-usa/ to learn more.