Service Leadership Programs

From Bashful to Bold

Samantha Lemons was wary about her first Key Leader weekend. Like many people who initially feel unsure in a new group, the native of Cuba, Missouri, arrived a little nervous. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this—I’m shy,’ she says. But she went home with a new perspective. As it turned out, Samantha was so stirred by her first Key Leader weekend—at Camp Mihaska, 70 miles southwest of St. Louis—that she returned as a student facilitator. Twice. 

“That first year, I got asked to talk about someone I found inspiring,” she says. “So I chose Alex from Alex’s Lemonade Stand.” 

Alexandra Scott was a Connecticut girl who raised more than $1 million for cancer research—even while suffering from the disease, which eventually claimed her life. “I started crying while I was reading, which was kind of embarrassing in front of 40 people I didn’t know,” Samantha says. “But it was definitely moving.” 

Samantha was excited to discover that Alex’s Lemonade Stand would be her Key Club’s project the next year. “It was so inspiring that I could bring my experience back and help our school raise a lot for something so important.”

When Samantha returned as a Key Leader weekend student facilitator, she earned the nickname “Skittles” for her hair, which was dyed in multiple colors. “[Key Leader] was definitely life-changing,” she says. “Now I love meeting new people. I found out Key Leader is definitely a ‘me’ thing.” 

 Serving as a student  facilitator gave her a chance  to share  what she had  learned. “I loved feeling like a  big kid,” Samantha says. “It  was nice to bond with all the  kids who are the same age  and the younger ones, and to  be a positive person there.” 

 She especially remembers a  Cape Girardeau girl whose homesickness Samantha eased with stories about her own first year. “It was her first time going to anything like this, and she’d never been one to get out in the woods,” Samantha says. “She came straight to me, not anyone else, and that made me happy.” 

Last year, two campers from Samantha’s  high school attended. “One was a talk-your-ear-off kind of person,” she says. “The other one I hadn’t been very close to—she was always quiet and shy. 

“But that weekend she actually opened up and still talks about people there to this day. That makes me feel proud.”

Now 19, Samantha wants to continue in Kiwanis-family clubs. She has left her rainbow hair behind as she searches for colleges that have culinary arts degrees and Circle K International clubs. 

But if there isn’t a club, she’ll start one herself. “I’ve opened up to myself and I’m more confident in who I am,” Samantha says. 

Her experiences with Key Leader helped make the difference. “I feel like a better person now for going,” she says.

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