Arundel High School sophomore Bella Allen learned about leadership and was inspired to do her part to positively impact the world at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Maryland Leadership Seminar last week at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg.
“I feel like I’m a different person now since attending HOBY,” Bella said. “We were treated like we have a lot of potential. I feel I have more power now as an individual, so I can change the world now if I want to.”
About 240 students from around Maryland, as well as five from different states, attended HOBY for free.
The leadership seminar is run by volunteers, many of which are HOBY alumni. Students must be nominated by their high school counselor or adviser. Anthony Diggs, Bella’s Arundel High counselor, nominated her.
“Each day had its own theme,” Bella said. “Thursday was personal leadership, Friday was group leadership and Saturday was societal leadership. Every day was definitely different. There was no free time; every day we did a lot of stuff. Everything was well planned.”
HOBY attendees learned on the first day to compost almost everything in the cafeteria.
“Over 300 pounds of compost was made in four days,” Bella said.
Thursday included speakers on self-confidence as well as a performance by comedian Chris Bowers taking a humorous approach to the theme.
On Friday, the students were separated into 26 groups based on their leadership style and enjoyed a lunch with community leaders.
At the career luncheon, paid for by the mentors, Bella enjoyed lunch with a criminal defense lawyer and a leader of a nonprofit for children with cancer.
“He talked about life stuff,” she said. “He said no matter what we do in life there’s not a right way to go. If you don’t want to go to college, don’t go. Just make things work so you’re happy. He was a really cool guy.”
Following the luncheon with the mentors, attendees completed a community service project.
Bella’s group helped the local YMCA prepare for incoming campers after the buildings experienced a flood.
“We got a week’s worth work of improvements done in three hours,” she said. “You could really see we made a difference.”
On Saturday, Bella enjoyed lunch with other students from Anne Arundel County who creates a group chat together online.
Unbeknownst to the students, Saturday’s dinner was the most challenging experience of all.
Before the meal began, the attendees had to choose from one of four different colored cards.
“I had a bad feeling because my brother, Adam Allen, was a former HOBY student and warned me there was something I wasn’t going to like,” Bella said.
Bella and seven other students received a blue card. There were taken to the stage in the cafeteria and served a gourmet meal with catered service. Before eating, Bella looked around the cafeteria and saw to her horror how the rest of the attendees were being treated.
“The yellow table of about 50 students had food and service, but it was crowded, she said. “The white group of 100 students had Dixie cups that were half filled with rice and beans and the final group of 100 kids had no food at all.”
“People were yelling and getting mad. We were told to stay in our color zone. It made me feel bad.”
Bella said she had a nice plate of food but pushed it away. She didn’t eat.
“Kid were yelling, fighting and standing on tables (during dinner),” Bella said. “I was really upset and sick to my stomach. It brought out the worst in us. Big boys left crying.”
Following the disastrous dinner, attendees went to a two-hour Global Economic Diversity discussion.
“There are so many problems and we act like they’re not there,” Bella said. “(The dinner exercise) kind of sucked, but was really good for all of us. Every time you eat a meal, do you think about someone who doesn’t have one?”
Afterward, students were rewarded with a dance and fed pizza and ice cream.
On Sunday, attendees were encouraged to set specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and timely goals, abbreviated to SMART goals.
Bella said the experience was rewarding.
“I learned that not only do I have the power in me, everyone has the power to change the world,” she said. “I also learned how and understood on a serious level how important it is to always be grateful for what I have, because what I have is enough.”