Six teens from Kerrville and surrounding towns are back from a conference in Corpus Christi, where they were immersed in lessons on leadership, Americanism, patriotism and free enterprise.

The teens and their friends and families gathered for a reception Thursday at the Tierra Linda Stonehouse and Pavilion, an event hosted by the Military Order of the World Wars.

The teens shared thoughts and personal experiences from their time at the five-day Youth Leadership Conference, which took place aboard the USS Lexington last month.

“At the conference, I was able to expand not only as a leader, but also as a follower,” said 17-year-old Ben Romero, who attends Our Lady of the Hills Regional Catholic High School.

Romero was one of six finalists for the conference’s Top Leader award, said Ralph Lewis, commander of the local MOWW chapter.

Lewis said the purpose of the annual conference is to teach

students leadership, patriotism

and about the American free enterprise system. The MOWW covers all of the students’ expenses. 

It’s not a recruitment tool of the U.S. military, Lewis added.

Roger Spencer, MOWW chaplain, opened Thursday’s reception with a prayer, which was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Romero. Later, each teen came forward and said a few words.

Tivy High School’s Caitlin Jones said she was able to apply much of what she had learned in Junior ROTC to her time at the conference, and she learned a lot of useful team-building exercises.

Kyla Wood of Harper High School said what she learned at the conference has already helped her be more assertive in her role as captain in her high school band’s color guard. She plans on joining the military sometime after high school.

Brooke Meismer of Our Lady of the Hills, Ian Borton of Fredericksburg High School and Ofelia Macias and Zakary Widenor, both of Bandera High School, all offered up similar sentiments, and every student agreed the conference had allowed them to grow not only as individuals stepping out of their comfort zones, but also as leaders. 

The experience gave them a better understanding of America’s founding principles and the Constitution, they indicated.

In addition to providing a platform for the students to share what they had learned, the MOWW recognized one of their own with an award: Lewis presented a National Citation to Hereditary Member Gaynell Wells for her efforts as the chairwoman of the youth conference fundraising committee.

Wells was instrumental in raising enough money to send 13 students to the conference this year. The cost of attendance is $425 per student, bringing the total raised to more than $5,500.

In accepting the award, Wells’ humility shone through: “I’m not sure I really deserve this, but I really do appreciate it, guys.”

John Lopez III was inducted into the local chapter and asked his longtime friend and fellow MOWW member, Earl Bullock, to pin the Perpetual Membership pin to his shirt lapel.

Lewis then announced that 21-year-old Laycee Gibson, a 2015 conference attendee, had applied for membership. Gibson has served as a counselor to other students attending the annual conference from 2016 to present.

“I have been very impressed by the caliber of students that come to our conferences,” Gibson said. “Leadership is important in college because you have to be able to lead discussions and groups.”

Gibson is set to graduate from Texas A&M in December with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in leadership.

To learn more about the Youth Leadership Conference, visit txpef.org.

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