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For HOBY ambassadors, it’s all about learning to lead

HOBY, or Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, is, on the surface, a three-day leadership seminar for high school sophomores. But to its ambassadors, HOBY is a place full of “smart, intuitive people who like to have fun and come together to enhance their leadership skills and learn,” said Bronwen Pelish, 16, a sophomore at Penfield High School, near Rochester.

Founded in 1958 by the actor who portrayed Wyatt Earp in a 1950s television Western, HOBY is dedicated to helping ambassadors reach their full potential through speakers and service projects that teach personal, group and societal leadership.

HOBY New York West has been held at the University of Rochester for the past several years, boasting a program that has featured a presentation from a Sudanese Lost Boy and cleanup of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Typically, prospective ambassadors are asked to write an essay about leadership by their high school counselor in order to attend HOBY.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into ... it was just a nondescript youth conference I heard about,” said Josh Larmon, 15, a sophomore at Oakfield-Alabama High School.

Katie Johnston, 16, a sophomore at Wilson High School, said she wasn’t expecting to make such good friends in such a short amount of time.

“You’re in a room full of complete strangers and it’s not weird … I learned so much about how to be a better person, not only from the presentations but my peers,” she said.

A favorite presentation among ambassadors was “Challenge Us: Leading for a Stronger Group,” presented by Shannon Dobrovolny of Cazenovia College. An interactive lesson, it focused on the negative impact certain words can have on people, and opened up ambassadors’ eyes to how they act and speak on a daily basis.

While at New York West, ambassadors have the opportunity to meet with other students and create a service project to combat issues facing their communities.

Ambassadors from Niagara County have created a plan titled “New Niagara” that will focus on running recycling and bottle return programs and meet monthly to clean up Niagara Falls.

After attending local seminars, ambassadors have the opportunity to go to the World Leadership Congress in Chicago or Advanced Leadership Academy at George Mason University in Virginia in an effort to continue their HOBY experience.

Ambassadors also have the opportunity to come back to their local seminar as a junior staff member. The junior staff tends to be more behind the scenes and helps to lead cheers, run errands for programmers, and serve as a go-between for senior staff and ambassadors.

With a mission to “inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation,” HOBY works to motivate and empower ambassadors to make a difference by having integrity, volunteering, striving for excellence, celebrating diversity and partnering with communities – both local and worldwide.

“HOBY teaches you to lead yourself and to be confident so that you can lead others,” said Trey Rees, 16, a sophomore at Wilson High School.

Anna Kane is a junior at Wilson High School.