When Ben Girard left for the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference (HOBY) in Troy last June, he could not imagine how much he would learn about himself or the power of doing little things for others.
HOBY is a three-day event that helps high school sophomores recognize their leadership talents and apply them to become effective, ethical leaders in their home, school, workplace and community.
For Ben, the essence of that lofty goal was condensed into a simple project—to make Hope Boxes for the Ronald McDonald House in Albany. The house provides a home away from home for families of seriously ill children receiving medical treatment in the area.
A Hope Box is a simple idea, just a small wooden box filled with quotes expressing messages of love, hope, or inspiration. Ben chose the theme of hope. Among the quotes he selected were Charlie Chaplin’s, “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles.” He also chose a quote from Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
The completed box was presented to the family of a child combatting cancer or other terminal illness. The positive messages and the knowledge that someone cared enough to craft the box and messages can lift parents’ spirits.
The power of that simple project surprised Ben.
“You wouldn’t think that something you made in two hours would make a difference. It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.
He said that other projects such as Project Linus (handmade blankets) and Maddie’s Elephants (handmade stuffed elephants) offer similar support for ill children and their families.
In addition to the individual projects, the students participated in hands-on leadership activities, met New York leaders, and explored their own personal leadership skills while learning how to lead others and make a positive impact in their community.
Optimism became contagious, spreading through the conference participants. They soon began to see the positive impact they could have as leaders at school, in the community and in the workplace.
“I am encouraged by the idea of how the workforce would change and how much you could get done,” he said.
Back at Central Valley, those lessons are not forgotten. Ben is spreading the HOBY message among schoolmates. He is also working to satisfy his HOBY pledge to give 100 hours in community service.