Perhaps Rick Huffman said it best when he told a room full of the region’s young people: “Look around you. Sitting in this room is the future mayor of Portage. And a future bank president.”
Huffman, the superintendent at Windber Area School District, has been a driving force behind The Tribune-Democrat Youth Leadership Seminar.
The second annual event, which was held Wednesday at the Heritage Discovery Center in Cambria City, brings together some of the region’s best and brightest. High school students from 17 school districts in Cambria and Somerset counties got the chance to meet not only one another, but also to interact with community leaders from local businesses and organizations.
“It’s primarily about two things for these students: The opportunity for these students to network amongst themselves and also communicate their thoughts and perceptions to the adult leadership in the community,” Huffman told our Justin Dennis.
For far too many years we’ve faced the dreaded “brain drain” as some of the top young minds in our region leave for what they perceive as better opportunities elsewhere. The reasons are varied: sometimes it is because they don’t believe that they can be successful in their chosen fields here; others are lured by the big-city lights of more populated areas.
Whatever the case may be, the results of a pre-seminar survey of the students attending the event found that almost three out of every four said they plan to live and work outside of the area.
That’s a startling – and frightening – statistic. How can our region have a brighter future if only one out of four leaders is sticking around?
More than half – 52 percent – said they are leaving for job opportunities and the chance for a higher income.
It’s not a new trend. People have been leaving our area for years. But we all know someone who left for a brighter tomorrow only to find that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Yearning for a return to their roots, he or she has eagerly come back home.
Our young people need to know there are reasons – important ones – to stay here. Leaders of the seminar attempted to dispel some of the myths that student attendees might have about the region by letting them know about job opportunities in our area and what we have to offer.
The students who attended already are assets to our region and they will definitely give something back to their communities in the short term, as each school district was asked
to undertake an action plan that will benefit its area.
Whether or not the students end up staying in the region remains to be seen. We just hope that the future Portage mayor is located just off Route 160 and not in Portage, Ohio.