The group of Howard County teenagers used Facebook and Twitter to get the word out: They were recruiting youth singers, performers and improvisational acts to perform at a fundraising concert at a senior center.

For some, the idea of teens getting together to hang out with and perform for seniors might seem as odd as the New York Philharmonic performing on the "X Factor." For Howard County's Leadership University (also called Leadership U), it is how area high school students reach out to the county's diverse population to develop leadership and service skills.


Leadership U is a part of Columbia-based Leadership Howard County, a nonprofit organization that aims to help Howard residents improve their community.

The organization, founded in 1985, launched Leadership U in 1996 to provide county youths with leadership skills by creating a four-month program that provides opportunities for community service. Leadership Howard County says that Leadership U is one of two countywide youth leadership programs in the state. The group is geared for high-school juniors and includes public, private and home-schooled students.

"This program is a very enriching experience," said Morgan Plitt, a junior at Long Reach High School and Leadership U member. "I know I will take away life lessons as well as a group of friends from all over the county I wouldn't have had the chance to meet otherwise. I have also found that I love being able to give back to the community that has given so much to me and other people."

Leadership Howard County works with the county public school system to recruit students. Fifty students now participate in Leadership U.

"Leadership U is trying to develop leadership skills along with helping them understand that at a young age they can have an impact through community projects," said Stacie Hunt, president and CEO of Leadership Howard County.

Diane Freedman, Leadership Howard County's director of youth programs, said the program includes a summer component for leadership skills development and a fall session for a community service project. Among its projects are donating gift baskets to the Claudia Mayer Cancer Center, providing money and supplies for the Anti-Domestic Violence League, and welcoming returning soldiers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Leadership U members are regularly active with the county's senior community. The group's concert fundraiser Grammy's 4 Grannies on Nov. 6 at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia will feature groups from several county high schools. Proceeds will go toward the senior center.

"It is very important for the younger generations to connect with the senior citizens; they hold a lot of life experience and have great advice," said Leadership U member Gabriella Ellrich, a junior at Marriotts Ridge High. "I think we all agree their presence in our society should be celebrated.

"During our visit at the senior center, we saw a desire from the seniors for music and interaction with a younger generation of people," Ellrich said. "When it came time to pick our projects, we decided to combine the two ideas along with raising money for the senior center, and make a benefit concert. We all like music and are involved in some way in our high schools' music program."

Plitt said the group will provide county senior centers with the names and phone numbers of the music honor societies in the Howard schools, "so if they wish to have a group come over, they know who to call. Also, we are giving the schools in Howard County a list of senior centers that may want to have groups play occasionally for the holiday."

Ellrich said she heard about Leadership U through guidance counselors at Marriotts Ridge. She has been active in community service projects and for the past three years has gone to southern Virginia to repair homes with members of her church. Leadership U work, she said, enables her to be involved with projects closer to home.

"I hope to contribute to a long-lasting service project," she said, "that influences other groups in later years to get involved with the senior center."