C5 Georgia is a five-year leadership development program that aims to serve first-generation, underserved students from the Metro Atlanta area (defined as a one-hour driving radius outside of Atlanta). Our organization accepts 72 students (36 girls and 36 boys) each spring from a pool of approximately 300 applicants. Our students begin their journey with us the summer immediately following the 7th grade where they attend our 25 day residential summer camp located a few hours outside of Atlanta. For each year the student is a member, our program includes a new summer experience, combined with a year round component that helps to strengthen a student's leadership and character development, increase their social skills, and heighten their awareness, exposure, and understanding of both college and career. The five summer experiences are:
1) Camp Leadership U, which focuses on learning self-leadership. Students discover the type of leader they are and how to best implement that leadership in their personal life. This 25 day session takes the student out of their comfort zone by exposing them to challenges that help shape their leadership capabilities.
2) Camp Leadership U, which focuses on learning to lead others. This experience builds on the skills they learned in the first year of the program. Students are challenged to lead others through delegation of responsibilities, and participation in group projects that challenge their particular leadership style.
3) Rexam Leadership Challenge (Bridges program), which focuses on pushing students beyond their comfort zone. In this summer experience the students are taken on a 13-day backpacking trip to Wyoming. This trip is frequently the first time many of our students have taken a flight, been out of the state, or had an extended outdoor experience. Our students hike, raft, and camp throughout the two week trip. We connect the challenges students overcome on this trip to the challenges they will likewise overcome when applying to college.
4) Road to College Tour, which focuses on exposing students to regional schools that are potential college candidates. This 7-day trip is planned by a committee taken from the class that will be going on the tour (students between the 10th and 11th grade). The students explore various types of campuses, including small rural schools, large urban schools, HBCUs, research based institutions, and others. Students meet with admissions representatives, student organizations, community organizations, and other departments. This is frequently the first time students stay overnight on a college campus, meet with college representatives, and envision the type of institution that is best fit for them.
5) The ACT NOW! Summit, a week-long social awareness program that fifth-year students plan, orchestrate, and execute in the Metro Atlanta area. Students in the middle of their fourth year decide on a social awareness topic of interest to them and their community after doing a community assessment. Past topics have included homelessness, youth recreation, and trafficking (weapon, drug, human and sex trafficking). Students research their topics, create community awareness, present proposals, and advocate for their specific topic. Students also have an opportunity to present their topic to peers from outside organizations.
During our year round programming students must attend three mandatory class events that build on past summer experiences while helping students prepare for the next summer. The year round programming events are based on the three C5 Georgia tracks: leadership and social awareness, community action, and college and career. These events can include but are not limited to: service opportunities, leadership development activities, college prep activities, and skill development.
Julie was the youth speaker at our graduation gala. She is currently a freshman on full scholarship at Mary Baldwin College, enrolled in the Virginia Junior Women's Institute for Leadership. This unique program is organized around a military model. Julie is majoring in Biomedical Science with a focus on Leadership Studies, Spanish, and International Business.
Julie is a first-generation scholar and overcame many obstacles during her time with C5. She was forced to leave an abusive home and spent her senior year living on the couches of friends She was homeless. Through all this, Julie was the Commanding Officer of her ROTC Unit at her high school, graduated with honors, and stayed active in C5. When asked about how the program has influenced her life Julie says: "Wow, where do I start? I think about C5 every day. The VJWIL program is focused on team work, discipline and problem solving. There are young women here from Alaska, California, New York, and everywhere else in the United States. I always think about leading myself and leading others, which is the theme of C5's first and second year, and how important it is to be role model. I won't ask someone to shine their shoes if mine look cruddy. I won't ask someone to dig a ditch if I am not standing next to them digging."
"C5 also helped me with basic skills. We had to do a difficult hike up a mountain with a full rucksack. Many of my peers didn't think they were going to make it. It was hard for me too, but I remembered doing it with C5 in Wyoming with a sprained ankle so I knew Virginia's mountains would be a piece of cake. I encouraged the other girls and together we were successful. I was a little nervous about shooting a rifle for the first time but I knew I was C5 Challenge Ready and I just did it."
Julie came to the USA from Guatemala when she was very young. She is completely dedicated to serving in the United States armed forces and ready to give my life for my country. She is very aware of all the opportunities that have been given to her since she has been here. She still remembers what hunger felt like when she didn't have enough to eat in Guatemala. She talks of times her family was afraid that some armed group would come into their home and rob them, or worse. She often jokes about how funny it felt to own her first pair of shoes, which she never had in Guatemala.
Julie plans after graduating college are to go to medical school and then serve in the Navy or Marine Corp as a plastic surgeon. She aims to help those who have given so much for her freedom and opportunities. She wants to help them live normal and happy lives.(Student's name was changed for confidentiality purposes)