Hundreds of teenagers from across the state are descending upon Johnstown in November to sharpen their leadership skills and learn more about ways to help their community at the 2019 Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils (PASC) state conference. Hosted this year at Westmont Hilltop Jr/Sr High School, the student council planning committee has worked for over two years to accommodate 1,200 students and their advisors for this yearly conference.
“I thought this was a great opportunity to help others,” says Max Wilkinson, president of student council and co-chair of the conference. He spearheaded the idea of bringing the conference to Johnstown when he was just a sophomore. “They will leave being different than when they came.”
Max says the conference changed his perspective on how to be a better leader. There was one workshop in particular that had an impact on him. “You don’t always have to say what you are going to do and announce it and make sure everyone else hears,” remembers Max, now an upcoming senior. “You can just do it and let people see the change instead of people hearing it.”
Lakyn Davis, a junior, has been involved with many aspects of student council before becoming a co-chair of the committee. Lakyn says that it is an integral part of student activities at the school, hosting Homecoming, the Powder Puff game and formal dances in order to foster student unity and friendship. In addition to spirit activities, student council has held fundraisers for local charities, worked to better their local community and even helped create student representation on their school board.
With the state conference coming in November to the newly-renovated high school, it offers an even bigger opportunity to network with like-minded students across the state and brings them here to Johnstown to showcase what our community has to offer as well, she says. “We put together a presentation and a video message that we gave to the executive board of PASC,” says Lakyn. “We had to show them what capacity we could hold, what was around our school, why we wanted to host the conference, what we done in the past, and what district conference we held in the past.” When the committee finally learned of the good news, it wasn’t long before that joy turned into action.
The committee created sub-committees to help them navigate the logistics of bringing in so many people. They came up with a theme for the conference specific to Johnstown, “Take Your Shot with Leadership,” a play on the movie Slapshot. Each day of the conference will have a more specific subject, ‘Set your goals,’ ‘Take your shot’ and ‘Stick with it,’ all tying in to their main theme.
They are also excited to announce their keynote speakers: Charlie Brenneman was at one point ranked seventh in the world in mixed-martial arts; John Beede climbed the tallest mountain on every continent; and Judson Laipply, best known for his YouTube video, “Evolution of Dance.”
Jacob Allen, chair of the entertainment committee, is excited to announce some of the events for the three-day conference. Big highlights include a Tomahawks game on Thursday night, a banquet dinner at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Convention Center and a dance at the high school.
“I have to keep the large amount of kids that are coming here satisfied and enjoyable,” says Jacob. “Along with teaching the lessons that need to be taught, we also need to have a little bit of fun.
“So we have bouncies coming in, the Tomahawks, everything to keep them entertained and involved so they are not just sitting around and waiting for the next thing to happen.”
Nicole Leiden will make sure everyone has a smile on their face. A sophomore at Westmont, Nicole chairs the Hospitality Committee. “It is definitely a big and scary thought that we will be in charge of 1,000 kids,” says Nicole. “My job is making sure everything runs smoothly, whether that is making sure everyone gets to their hotel to everyone’s lunch sandwich is correct. That is really where I come into play.” Nicole says she will be recruiting teachers to staff the conference and really making sure everyone stays positive, including the over 20 student council members who are all helping to put on the conference.
“We have been so blessed to have this opportunity to take on. Hopefully, these kids will never forget this experience.” Nicole says if attendees remember that Westmont students put on a great conference, and they were happy and willing to always help, then she and her committee did their job.
Advisor Jonathan Rutledge has made no secret about how proud he is of this group of students.
“I’ve had some really good student councils, but I think this one has had a big impact on me,” he boasts. “I will never forget them. I am inspired by them and I think it is going to be impressive when the conference is finally here in November.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up to offset the costs associated with the conference at “WHHS State Conference Fundraiser.”
Registration opens Aug. 26. Sign up at www.pasc2019.org. The conference will be held Nov. 7-9 at Westmont Hilltop Jr/Sr High School, 200 Fair Oaks Drive.