The Green Bay Packers are known for fostering a tradition of strong, consistent leadership; from Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr to Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, the presence of smart and resilient leaders can make the difference for any team, organization or community.
To encourage the next generation of leaders in northeastern Wisconsin, the Packers hosted the third annual “Empower” event on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 at Lambeau Field, welcoming students with emerging leadership potential from local middle schools.
The first day, geared toward girls, and the second day, geared toward boys, each began with a keynote presentation from skateboarder, motivational speaker and self-proclaimed “professional teenager” Mike Smith, whose nonprofit group Skate for Change is dedicated to youth empowerment through skateboarding and community action.
He spoke about discovering his true passion through helping other students in his high school to feel like a part of the community. “Helping people happens when no one else is looking,” Smith said during his speech. “If you truly want to help people, you don’t do it because it’s going to look good on a resume. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Smith, who has worked with youth and adults for more than a decade, has made it his mission to inspire people to create positive changes in their schools and businesses by encouraging them to be mindful of the legacy they can leave behind.
“The thing that everyone out there making an impact has in common is that they stand for something,” said Smith. “They wake up every day and they have a purpose and a passion. They stand for someone or something other than themselves.”
Smith said anyone can create a legacy and do something incredible, but it can begin in middle school.
“Know that you’re never too young to make an impact and you’re never too young to start making a difference,” Smith told the students. “Go back to school and stand for someone or something. Know that you have an opportunity as a leader to go out there and change the world.”
Each day of the event also featured panel discussions from local leaders, including television personalities and Packers alumni and executives, to help the students harness their leadership potential. The panelists shared stories and discussed empowerment and what it means to have character.
NBC 26 news anchor Stacy Engebretson, who was a part of the panel on the first day, reminded the students to be themselves and encourage others. “Stay true to your heart and realize you have a lot to offer,” Engebretson said. “Support each other and build each other up…step out of your comfort zone and do something that challenges you because when you are successful at that, you build up confidence.”
During the second day of the event, Packers alumnus and director of player development Rob Davis was a panel member, telling the students that being a part of a team can be life-changing.
“I encourage young people to be a part of something,” Davis said. “When you're accountable to somebody else, you're involved in something that's bigger than you. That's going to help get you through the tough times.”
The students at each event also heard from Fuel Up to Play 60 Ambassadors from local middle and high schools, who were eager to teach their peers about how effective leaders must also be healthy and physically fit. They talked about leading by example, making healthy snacks for sleepovers and making sure to get enough exercise.
Additionally, Lt. Jim Valley of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office spoke to the students to explain the effects of cyberbullying and the importance of internet safety, sharing that while technology can be a great tool, it can also be dangerous if not used safely and wisely.
Each day ended with the students writing an “I will” statement, pledging to create positive change in their homes, schools and communities. Many attendees promised to help their siblings, classmates and families, do more volunteering, become a better listener and put an end to bullying in their schools. They’ll each return to Lambeau Field for a follow up event in the spring to talk about the progress they’ve made on their pledges and how they’ve used their leadership skills to make their communities better.
Laura Karlen, a counselor at West De Pere Middle School who attended the event with some of her students, said she hopes the day inspired the girls to recognize their potential as leaders and make a difference.
“I think it’s a great thing for kids to get involved in so they can hear from local leaders that they are able to do some great things for themselves,” Karlen said. “We want to get them to step out of their comfort zone and take their leadership to the next level.”
Some of her students worked together on their “I will” statements.
“I hope they can bring back some positive change. I know our group has been talking about doing something as a whole group, so I’m curious to see what they come up with,” said Karlen.
Matt Krueger, a counselor at Edison Middle School, echoed Karlen’s thoughts.
“It’s great that we have our youth in here learning about leadership and being a positive influence in our community,” Krueger said. “Hopefully they’re learning that they need to be a positive influence in their school and look for those kids that may be struggling…and just lead by positive examples.”