Chester's Mabry Wingerter is feeling inspired this summer.
The rising junior at Chester High School just returned from the four-day Illinois Central South Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar June 16-19 at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
Better known as HOBY, the leadership conference brings together select students in an effort to develop leadership and critical thinking skills. According to their website, HOBY was started by actor Hugh O'Brian in 1958 as a "nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire a global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service, and innovation."
Six decades later, HOBY is still inspiring young people all over the world. Currently more than 10,000 students who have just completed the 10th grade are attending HOBY seminars each year. The seminars are run by volunteers with community leaders, business executives, educators, and parents. Each seminar strives to follow the HOBY motto of teaching students "how to think, not what to think!"
Wingerter was nominated to represent CHS by counselor Kristin Wolter for her strong leadership skills and desire to help make both her school and community better places. She was one of 72 youths from across Illinois' Central South region to attend.
"It was a bit intimidating at first because I was the only student from the Chester area," Wingerter said. "There was one student from Carbondale, one from DuQuoin, one from Nashville, one from Belleville West, and one from Mascoutah, but even those five schools are from quite a distance away.
"The other 66 were even further away. Once we all got settled, we all became good friends and the distance or size of the other schools did not matter."
This year's HOBY ILCS seminar had a '90s theme -- "Leadership is ALL THAT and a Bag of Chips." Wingerter and 71 other Ambassadors, as the students are called, met for four days to expand their leadership skills and learn how to think for themselves.
"It was impressive when we arrived at Illinois Wesleyan University. There was a very high level of energy and everyone was dressed in '90s apparel to go with the theme of the event," Wingerter said.
"Everyone was so friendly it didn't take long to start to feel comfortable in our own skin."
Leadership Seminar Chairperson Kiersten Grathwohl, known at seminars as "HOBY MAMA," told the Ambassadors: "You were chosen to represent your school and community because someone sees something special in you, even if you might not. From this moment forward you are a leader!"
Wingerter said the four days were jam-packed with seminars, group activities, speakers and fun. "They kept us busy all day long," she said.
Highlights included a "Shark Tank" activity on Day 1 where Wingerter's group won the "Most Creative" award for their idea -- a "Gutter Buster" tool to clean gutters. In the session, each group had 20 minutes to come up with an idea and give a presentation to the entire 72-person group.
In one of the individual activities, Wingerter was asked to complete an "Identity Circle" to describe herself. Mabry described herself as being positive, competitive, encouraging, and supportive, along with being determined, organized, an achiever, and a perfectionist.
On Day 3 all 72 HOBY Ambassadors worked throughout the morning to pack rice bag meals for Florida-based Meals of Hope. The students worked on a production line to make and pack wholesome meals of rice, beans, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to feed a family of four. The individual meals were boxed into cases to be sent to food pantries and organizations that feed hungry people.
Wingerter brought two cases of the product home for the Chester Area Christian Food Pantry (CACFP). She presented the cases to pantry manager Bob Koenegstein Monday, June 27.
Tasked with the idea of doing something to help those at home, Wingerter and other students from the region decided to organize a 5K run titled "Running for Resources." The profits from the runs would help fund much-needed improvements at schools and in the community.
"This was definitely an amazing experience! It was great spending four days with 72 other amazing people who all wanted to do better and be better," Wingerter said. "I now intend to take what I've learned to Chester High School and to the community of Chester and implement the leadership skills to improve both school and the City of Chester."
Mabry is the daughter of Chris and Nicki Wingerter and is an excellent student at CHS. She is active in both sports and academics, and maintains a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. She was sponsored by the Chester Rotary Club and will make a presentation to the organization on the HOBY seminar.