Albion, Holley students hear from community members about leadership
ALBION – About 60 student leaders from Albion and Holley high schools heard from five community members last week on how they can make a positive impact on Orleans County and the country.
The students don’t need to wait until they are settled in careers to start making a mark on the community.
“The world is yours,” said Michael Bonnewell, the Albion school superintendent. “It is yours now, and it is yours to shape.”
Bonnewell was among the panel speakers during the Rotary Interact Leadership Seminar with a focus on “Service Above Self.” Bonnewell is the current president of the Albion Rotary Club.
Other speakers at the forum included Orleans County Sheriff Randy Bower, Melissa Ierlan (Clarendon code enforcement officer, historian and Holley Board of Education member), Charlie Nesbitt (former State Assemblyman who remains active in several community projects), and the Rev. Tim Lindsay, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship and one of the leaders of PACT – Pastors Aligned for Community Transformation.
Lindsay has been a pastor in Albion since 1987. He urged students to be character driven in their lives, especially ages 16 to 26. Lindsay said the decisions made during this decade will affect the students’ trajectory in life.
“Live for something bigger than yourself,” Lindsay said. “You can leave a great legacy behind when you live for others and for something bigger than yourself.”
Bower, the local sheriff, shared how he was paralyzed at age 18, four months after he graduated from Holley. Bower was working a full-time job at the time as a line technician for a cable company.
On Oct. 10, 1983, he was driving home from a friend’s house at about midnight. He fell asleep at the wheel. Clarendon firefighters saved his life that night, Bower said.
He credited a neighbor named Jason for coming over to help him in those months after the accident. Bower would find a career as a public safety dispatcher. He married and has a family.
Bower urged the students to have a “strong moral compass” to guide their decisions and actions in life, and to help them overcome the challenges that await.
He shared other advice: look people in the eye and make eye contact.
Many teens and young adults today seem overly distracted by their phones, too quick to check them instead of engaging in conversation. Bower said.
“Eye contact and a firm handshake, you don’t see that as much,” Bower said.
Charlie Nesbitt, a retired state assemblyman, was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On Nov. 14, 1968 he was tasked with extracting a Special Forces unit out of Laos. Under enemy fire after one chopper crashed in the jungle, Nesbitt picked up the crew of the downed aircraft and left. Then the crew discovered that one man, John Grimaldi, had been left behind. Though low on fuel, Nesbitt turned his helicopter around and successfully rescued Grimaldi under intense enemy fire. Nesbitt was 20 at the time.
When he returned home after the war, he joined the family’s car dealership. He would be elected state assemblyman in 1992 and served until 2005. He then served decade as president and commissioner of the state Tax Appeals Tribunal. He also has been active in the Albion Alumni Foundation, and in local service groups, the Rotary Club and Masonic Lodge.
Nesbitt said leaders can identify a problem and develop a strategy to solve it. It often takes tenacity to get job done.
“With leadership the key element is vision,” he told the students. “You have to understand the situation and imagine the outcome.
Tim Archer, an Albion teacher and Interact advisor, referred an article from Time magazine that said today’s generation of teen-agers are “lazy, entitled narcissists” who are obsessed with their social media “likes.” The article calls them the “Me, Me, Me Generation,” Archer said.
Samantha Zelent, a school social worker at Holley and the Interact advisor, believes there are stereotypes depicting today’s young people as self-absorbed, but she doesn’t see it that way.
“These kids will change this world when they are asked and motivated,” Zelent said.
Melissa Ierlan is the code enforcement officer for Clarendon. She also is town historian and a member of the Holley Board of Education. Ierlan urged the students to get a job and work hard, and not ask for handouts.
“Parents are part of the problem,” she said. “Do you pay for your own car, your car insurance or for phone? When your parents keep giving you something, I think that’s part of the problem.”
The panelists were asked how students can volunteer and help the community.
Ierlan said there are numerous ways to give back to the community. She urged them to call their village and town clerks for ideas, as well as through the historical societies.
She praised community members for stepping up recently with projects at Hillside Cemetery in Holley/Clarendon. Scouts have done Eagle projects at the cemetery. Community members have raised money to save the historic chapel.
“We have tons and tons of people who model it everyday,” Ierlan said about “Service Above Self.”
Bower said the local youth sports leagues need coaches. Student athletes, including recent graduates, would be welcomed to work with younger kids on the teams, Bower said.
There are also numerous service clubs, churches and fire departments that need new members.
The group was asked how many plan to leave Albion or Holley after they graduate, and most kids raised their hands.
Nesbitt said the perception of little opportunity in the county remains a big barrier to overcome. Bringing job opportunities to the county was a top priority during his 13 years in the Assembly. (There is a road named for him in the Holley Business Park, which welcomed several projects during his tenure.)
Lindsay sees poverty and drug addictions as the two biggest challenges for the community. PACT, which includes several local pastors, has been engaged in those issues.
“Do you want to be part of the solution?” Lindsay said. “Identifying the problem is easy.”
Ierlan sees advantages with smaller school districts, where students know and have access to their teachers. Holley, like many local districts, has a shrinking enrollment. The school only has 57 students in next year’s graduating class, when it recently had 90 to 99.
Nesbitt said he had 214 in his graduating class about a half century ago. Today’s Albion class in just over half that size.
“Things have not stayed the same and they won’t,” he said.
Archer, a character education for Albion seventh-graders, urges his students to not just talk about a problem.
“You have to do something about it,” he said. “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”