We usually think of “community” as a group of people with something in common. Last week, students who were chosen to participate in the 2017-2018 James River Leadership Academy joined together from different places and built a new community of their own.

The goal of the James River Leadership Academy is to engage motivated students in experiential skill building that will prepare them to take action on behalf of the James River. Thirteen students committed to the Leadership Academy experience this year, representing 8 counties and 10 schools ranging in sizes and settings. The team quickly formed a bond despite different backgrounds, preferences, interests, and hopes for the future.

Day one and all fun!

The first day of their experience included an 8-mile James River paddle from Westview to Powhatan State Park, camping, team building, and getting to know one another. The remainder of the week took place on Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, home of the James River Ecology School. More paddling, hiking, and outdoor appreciation filled the days, and they met some new neighbors! All kinds of wildlife from coyotes to owls, fish to birds of prey joined them along their journey.

Day trips away from Presquile also provided some time for more fun activities like a shoreline clean-up in the James River Park System, visiting a Luck Stone quarry, and tree climbing with Riverside Outfitters.

As the team grew closer, their differences and their similarities forged deep friendships. They engaged in meaningful leadership exercises that allowed for self discovery, team work, individual challenges, and learning all of the ways they can impact every community they are a part of. In addition, students were challenged to begin building ideas for their own community-based action project to be completed next year.

The James River Association education staff are so proud of the 2017-2018 cohort and their accomplishments thus far. The team will meet again in October after a great start to the new school year!