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Students practice what it takes to lead via Bank of America program

WESTCHASE — While growing up, Kyle Johnson always excelled in academics. He had a loyal circle of friends. His performing talents included music and the theatre. He was versatile.

But he never truly considered himself a leader.

Until now.

Johnson, a Westchase resident and rising senior in Robinson High School's International Baccalaureate program, was honored this summer as one of five winners of the Bank of America Student Leader award, which emphasizes community work and volunteerism.

Johnson, who has a 4.0 unweighted grade point average and lists his dream colleges as Yale or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received a paid internship with the Town 'N Country Boys & Girls Club, where he served as a program leader and also logged time in the administrative offices to learn more about the workings of a nonprofit agency.

Additionally, Johnson attended a weeklong national leadership summit in Washington, D.C., where he toured the monuments and spent a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and an aide to U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

"This has been an incredible summer,'' said Johnson, who also attended Boys State in Tallahassee and addressed 12,000 fellow students at the Future Business Leaders of America national convention, where he fell short of winning the organization's national presidency by a mere two votes.

Johnson deserved the life-changing experiences, according to Ann Shaler, Bank of America's Tampa-based senior vice president.

"Our goal is helping to identify how we replace the community leaders we have today with members of the next generation,'' Shaler said. "All you have to do is spend time with our five finalists to know that our world will continue to be in a good place. These students provide a lot of hope.''

Shaler described Johnson's Washington trip as a "business conference.'' She said LIFT, a national organization that works with families to break the cycle of poverty, delivered one of the more meaningful exercises.

Students were given identities and scenarios, such as a single mother of three children who was looking for affordable housing.

"They had to visit all these agencies and they saw the frustration,'' Shaler said. "Maybe they didn't have the right ID. Maybe they didn't have the right form for food stamps. And it would make them wonder, 'Why is it like this?'

"They'd break into small groups and talk about what they felt. And they'd consider what they, as a community, could do to help solve these problems. It was real-world problems and real-world solutions. These are the future leaders. We're in this for the long game, so not only will our communities get better informed and more compassionate young people, we'll see the benefits continue for 15 or 20 years down the line.''

Johnson, 17, said he already has seen benefits.

"I've learned so much,'' Johnson said. "I've become more aware of things going on in the world. I think that's naturally going to happen in a place like Washington, D.C. In elementary school, I don't think I would've called myself a leader. But I think I'm learning those skills and what it takes to lead.

"One of the speakers said, 'If it is to be, it's up to me.' That made sense. And we were shown that you can be a leader from all places in life. It doesn't matter where you start. You can use what you've been given. You can still become a leader when you start with nothing. It's a powerful lesson.''

Johnson also learned some powerful lessons at home, working for the Boys & Girls Clubs, which received a grant from Bank of America to fund the internship. It was Johnson's first paying job. All of the winners were given financial literacy tips from the program directors.

Otherwise, just being around the Boys & Girls Clubs children was a good experience.

"It was eye-opening,'' Johnson said. "It showed me issues I hadn't seen, such as kids not having enough food on the table because their parents are working multiple jobs, but enough money still isn't coming in.

"I feel like I have a better view of community issues. It has definitely moved me to come back here during the school year and work with these kids, even in the future, to see if I can help with some of the issues.''

Which is exactly the point of Bank of America's program.

"Kyle has gotten a taste of what it might be like when he's out of school, what kind of options exist,'' said Ricky Gallon, outreach director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay. "He has learned some new skills. Some of our young people might be quiet at first, but when you work with kids, you open up and learn how to take charge.

"It's a great program for everyone involved. They all get something out of it.''

Especially Johnson.

"It was a summer I won't forget,'' he said.

Contact Joey Johnston at

Bank of America

Student Leader Program

From an initial field of 220 applicants, five finalists were selected by community leaders and Bank of America officials. Each finalist received a paid internship with the Boys & Girls Clubs, along with a trip to a national leadership summit in Washington, D.C.

Kyle Johnson

School: Robinson High

Community/volunteer activities: Mayor's Youth Corps; A Brighter Community; Trinity Cafe; Robinson UNICEF Club; Robinson Future Business Leaders of America; Masque Community Theatre; St. Lawrence Church altar server team.

Learning experience: "Through my work at A Brighter Community (Tampa's oldest nonprofit pre-school), I realized how lucky I was to be born when and where I was, and we all possess the power to change our community for the better.''

Hannah Luc

School: St. Petersburg High

Community/volunteer activities: Suncoast Hospice; Humane Society of Pinellas; Phi Theta Kappa; Junior Achievement; Color Run 5K; Electrodash 5K.

Learning experience: "I learned an ample amount of things such as time management and speech skills. But most of all, I learned the power of doing good for goodness sake. The joy of the people I helped is very satisfying.''

Liz Kirby

School: Newsome High

Community/volunteer activities: STEM Club and Female Mentoring Program; Student Council; mission trips volunteer; church lector/reader; Relay for Life.

Learning experience: "I have been blessed to have parents who have been very involved in my life, and I would like to 'pay it forward' and act as a mentor for other students in my community. Specifically, I plan to take the time to encourage reading and field trips for students who have not had all of the opportunities that I have.''

Matthew Johnson

School: Wharton High

Community/volunteer activities: Church Faith Formation classes; National Beta Club; Metropolitan Ministries; migrant farm donations.

Learning experience: "Helping to coordinate our semiannual migrant farm trips takes careful planning and weeks of donation-collecting. (It) has been an enriching experience for the joy it brings both the volunteers and the workers. Starting up a heated soccer match between both groups is when I realize how truly alike we all are.''

Ronne Riccobene

School: Palm Harbor University High

Community/volunteer activities: Suncoast Hospice; Amnesty International Club; Habitat for Humanity; Metropolitan Ministries.

Learning experience: "In volunteering for hospice, I can assist in providing patients with greater control over their transition than my grandpa had. … I now know the true benefit of volunteering is not simply donating time, but sharing in an experience that benefits all involved. When I visit with a patient, I am not just providing a person to talk to, but another person to share a moment with — and that is what makes volunteering an exceptional experience.''

Students practice what it takes to lead via Bank of America program 07/29/16 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2016 12:23pm]
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