JFK hosts leadership retreat

WARREN – Learning to make a difference for others was among the themes of a recent all-day leadership retreat for students and staff at John F. Kennedy School Upper and Lower Campus.

The day known as “K-Day” had different speakers, including several JFK alumni, talking about courage, integrity and education in service to the world.

The event was held for Catholic Schools Week.

Jillian Phillips, director of communications and advancement at JFK, said the event was held to develop leadership skills and strengthen faith.

Speakers included several alumni, including 2007 graduate Meghan Dixon, who spoke about her experiences with the Kennedy International Mission Trip program.

Keynote speaker Spencer West shared the struggles he overcame after losing his legs at age 5, which included dealing with stereotyping, bullying, finding meaning and happiness in a material world, and how he never lost the hope or courage needed to face personal obstacles.

West encouraged students to find opportunity in every challenge and instill leadership to make positive change.

In 2008, West traveled to Kenya on an international volunteer trip where he helped build a school in the Massai Mara. On his trip he met people who strive to overcome challenges every day.

“I want to help motivate and inspire people around the world,” he said.

West climbed Mount Kilamanjaro last year and raised $500,000 to bring sustainable clean water into Kenya, which has been affected by the worst drought in 60 years.

West is a member of Me to We Speakers and encourages youth to overcome challenges and believe in themselves as active change-makers in focusing on what they are passionate about.

He encourages children to become more socially involved in their communities.

Canadian native Scott Hammell, an illusionist, escape artist and motivational speaker, said he encourages people to become passionate about what they do and pursue in life.

“It is important for you to set goals and conquer fears,” he said.

He is a Guinness World Record holder for “World’s Highest Suspension Straitjacket Escape.”

His third world record was becoming the first person in the world to sky dive while handcuffed and blindfolded.

“You have heard the expression the sky’s the limit. In skydiving, the ground’s the limit,” he said.

Hammell hung upside down 50 feet from the ground in a straitjacket from a hot air balloon with a set of bungee jumping shoes as the only thing holding him to the balloon.

“If you want something bad enough you are going to have to push yourself. It was my big dream hanging upside down from a hot air balloon. If things don’t always go the way you want, you have the power turn something sour into something sweet. Step out of your comfort zone and push yourself,” Hammell said.

He told of a friend, Rob Dyer, who lost several family and friends to cancer and who wanted to make a difference. Dyer decided to skateboard across the United States in an effort called “Skate for Cancer” while stopping and visiting children battling cancer at hospitals.

Hammell said Dyer then skateboarded across Canada and New Zealand and while skateboarding across Australia was hit by a car and had to take time to heal.

Hammell said even if life hands you a lemon you can break things down and reach your dreams.

“Instead of focusing on the negative, look at the bigger picture. You have the power to do that and accomplish your goal,” he said.