Camp teaches speaking, leadership skills

John Maxwell Youth Initiative teaches kids to ‘add value’ to every activity


Gina Watts

At the end of the John Maxwell Youth Live Youth Initiative, John Maxwell brought up attendees to the stage.

I have horrible anxiety. Speaking is something I enjoy but is a horrifying prospect for me. In July, my father asked me to attend a three-day training seminar in Orlando, Fla. he was attending.

I agreed, immediately pushing it to the back of my mind.  The end of August, we left for Orlando, Florida at 4 a.m. to attend the first-ever John Maxwell Youth Live Youth Initiative.

Before the event, I finally decided to start gaining some knowledge on what we would be doing in Florida by studying and taking pre-certification courses online before arriving in Florida.

This event was hosted by John Maxwell, apparently the most celebrated speaker when it comes to Leadership in the world. I wasn’t all that certain until I found out he has sold 40 million books worldwide.

When we got there and heard him speak and teach though it felt different. He had this genuineness that other speakers didn’t. When I saw John Maxwell cry 30 minutes into the event, I knew this place was special. I was in a group of 100 youths from 10 different countries. Australia, Romania, France, Britain, everywhere someone could be, John Maxwell had allowed an invitation.

The next three days flew by.

Every moment spent slamming information into the minds of all 80 youths. It was fast-paced, and you were expected to participate in everything. The values that were taught, however, felt important to live. Unlike school, they didn’t just tell us what to do and expect us to do it. The John Maxwell Team gave examples of these lesson being used and how said experiences personally affected their life’s.

One activity we played was the so-called “Leadership game” for teens. The outcome of this game was me recognizing values that I could teach to others. I learned that sometimes there are obstacles that can’t be circumvented and that one must play the rules to a T.

The team-taught many lessons but luckily gave us materials that would explain the experiences more in-depth than what the time permitted. These lessons were, most importantly, incredibly simple to comprehend. How do you make yours and others live better? The answer the John Maxwell Team gave is “Add value.” No matter what you’re doing, you should be adding value to something or someone. A simple phrase taught me so much in five minutes.

Reaching out, I was able to contact Gina Watts, Director for the Youth Initiative, and get some of her thoughts.

How was the material for the youth chosen with all the material at your disposal?

For the last 5 years, JMT members have worked diligently behind the scenes, to adapt John’s existing leadership development content to user-friendly resources for youth. Over time, a team of leaders was created and best practices identified. The last 18 months were devoted to selecting the best of the best – content, activities, and resources for youth.

What inspired you to make a youth program?

At around the age of 16 years old, I was introduced to John Maxwell. My mom had given me one of his books. She was careful to include a few $5 bills just to make sure I read it. I remember that I liked the book but I didn’t really take the content seriously.

I read it and didn’t do anything with it. About 10 years later, I was at a crossroads in my life. I was teaching full-time as a professor at a major university and was charged with leading several departments very early in my career. I felt ill-equipped and needed the training to become a better leader. I “happened” upon the John Maxwell Team. When I attended my first International Maxwell Certification (IMC), I realized that I had found my “home.”

At that first training, I also realized that so many young people would benefit from John’s content. I often thought, what if I would’ve taken the content I received at 16 and applied it over those last 10 years. I made it my passion and mission to get John’s content into the hands of every young person I meet.

What did you want to accomplish most?

If one young person’s life was changed for the better – no matter how big or how small the change – then I knew I achieved a great success. And according to the testimonials we collected and some received after the event, I am confident that several young people’s lives were.

What was the most entertaining moment?

There were so many fantastic moments at the event. One of the most entertaining moments was when everyone – no matter how scared or annoyed, how confident or excited they were danced and celebrated the end of the event on stage at the last session of the entire event. I was so proud to see everyone smiling and having a great time.

What made you the most emotional?  

Seeing each young person have a “light bulb” or “aha” moment made me very emotional – as you witnessed my tears. It was so powerful to witness young people to realize that they have the power within themselves to be the change needed for this world.