Anicka and Kenneth Jerdo are sitting comfortably at a table, looking and acting every bit of a married couple. They sit shoulder-to-shoulder. They finish each other’s sentences. They give each other sideways glances that communicate without words. Theirs is actually a love affair that began as high school sweethearts, but had roots long before that.
“We met in sixth grade,” says Anicka.
“By the time we were in eighth grade, I said, ‘I’m going to make her mine,’ ” says Kenneth. “And by 11th grade she was.”
The couple’s children sit quietly a nearby table, a task that can’t be easy for the two youngest, Alleysia, 5, and Kenneth Jr., 3. Those ages don’t bode well for quiet sitting. It helps, though, that their older sister, Kiara, is overseeing the situation.
Kiara is actually the main topic of conversation. Last summer she attended the Leadership Development Camp, a four-day, three-night event put on by the American Red Cross in which campers live on campus at Xavier University, learning the subtle and not-so-subtle traits of becoming a leader. For many, it’s the first experience of being away from home and free from direct parental supervision. That freedom is what attracts many campers, but in the end what they walk away with most is a growth experience that reshapes their formative years.
That was the case for Kiara, as well. But what made her attendance at the camp so different, and the reason Anicka and Kenneth are sitting at a table recalling memories of their youth, is that Kiara is part of an ever-growing group of second-generation LDC campers. Anicka and Kenneth attended the camp their junior and senior years of high school in 1998 and 1999.
“We got a notice about the camp, and I turned to Kiara and said, ‘You’re going,’ ” says Anicka. “There wasn’t a discussion. We knew the camp and the impact it had on us.”
The Red Cross recognized that tomorrow’s leaders are today’s teenagers, so 40 years ago it created LDC, which works like this: More than 100 teenagers ages 13-17 from around the region live on campus, eating in the cafeteria, playing on the green space, sleeping in the dorms. They participate in workshops and sessions on various topics, like public speaking, volunteerism and ethics. There are also games, guest speakers and activities, all of which are structured to help young people recognize their leadership potential and encourage them to act upon it.
All of the activities are organized and run by a team of teen counselors who have already experienced LDC as campers and want to give back to the next camper group—with the support from college counselors and adult advisors, of course.
“If it were up to me, I would volunteer every teenager,” says Anicka. “I remember talking a lot about peer pressure, saying no to drugs, that sort of stuff, which is really important when you’re that age. But we also learned a lot of communications, teamwork, and overcoming situations. That’s also great when you’re in high school, but those are things that can be applied anywhere.”
“I also remember that it was hot,” adds Kenneth. “Back then we didn’t have air conditioning. They have it easy now. And in those days we got started early. I didn’t like mornings. They would come down the halls, banging on drums and knocking on your door. But we also had a lot of fun. We had lip synch battles. We laughed a lot.”
Anicka laughs and agrees.
“I remember we had a bunch of skits and competitions,” she says. “My team won, although Kenneth says it was because of him.”
“It was,” he says. “It was my idea.”
“But that’s not why we won.”
“It was the best idea.”
“But I had to perform it.”
Kiara looks over and rolls her eyes at her parents.
As her parents have been reliving the experience of their youth, Kiara has been either unusually quiet, or a typical teenager trying to hide from the embarrassment of her parents’ stories. An attempt is made to pry her open and get her to share her own experiences of the camp.
“Our first day, they asked how many of us were forced to go,” she says. “About half of us raised our hands. But the counselors were super nice, and now I would recommend it to my friends. It was fun, although I was very tired at the end. We didn’t get much sleep.”
Kiara, 15, is now a freshman at Walnut Hills High School. The family relocated to Evanston from West Chester so she could attend the prestigious school, where being skilled in leadership is a huge advantage. She’ll learn more this summer when she returns for her second year at LDC, and is already eyeing the possibility of being a counselor.
As Kiara talks, Alycia and Kenneth Jr. start reaching the outer limits of their abilities to sit quietly. As they get antsy, the rest of the family responds and rises from the table to contain their energy. Kenneth Jr. runs over and jumps into his dad’s arms. Hopefully, the elder Kenneth says, LDC will still be around in 10 years when Kenneth Jr. is eligible to attend.
Leadership Development Camp 2017
Dates: July 13-16
Camp Fee: $225 (Limited financial assistance available.)
Held on the campus of Xavier University.