Peyton Warnecke (back row, fourth from left) poses with some of the fellow students she met from around the state during 2018's HOBY Conference.
Peyton Warnecke (back row, fourth from left) poses with some of the fellow students she met from around the state during 2018's HOBY Conference.

OTTAWA — A few short weeks ago, several students from school districts throughout Putnam County had the opportunity to attend the annual HOBY Conference at Ohio Northern University. Founded in 1958, the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership organization endeavors to, “… motivate and empower individuals to make a positive difference within our global society, through understanding and action, based on effective and compassionate leadership,” according to information available on its website.

This vision, when put into practice, translates into an effort to gather together young people who have already demonstrated a strong desire to improve their communities, and instill within them the leadership capabilities needed to create lasting change. The Sentinel recently spoke with one of the conference attendees, Peyton Warnecke of Ottawa- Glandorf High School, and learned more about what it takes to be selected, and what the experience is like from the student’s perspective.

“I volunteer with our youth group at our church,” Warnecke begins. “And then, I’m on the Key Club and will be an officer next year. I’m also part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters foundation.”

When pressed for further details on these activities, Warnecke begins with her involvement with the youth group at St. John’s Parish in Glandorf, saying, “Every month we meet and talk about our faith. Then, we also go around and collect canned food for the Food Pantry, that’s every year around Christmas. This year, we made cookies to give to people in the surrounding community too.”

“While working in the Guidance Office, I get a lot of experience,” Warnecke says of her participation with Ottawa-Glandorf’s Key Club. “We help the Kiwanis out a lot - we setup for blood drives and health fairs. We go caroling at Christmas time.”

The school is also often called by area nonprofits and service organizations requesting assistance. It’s not unusual, according to Warnecke, to be volunteering for four or five events during any give month as part of her Key Club activities.

And, Warnecke is a Big Sister to a younger student at Ottawa Elementary. “We meet once a week at O-E during lunchtime,” she says. “We talk, play games, and if they need help with homework, I help them with that.”

When attending the HOBY Conference, Warnecke suddenly found herself surrounded by like minded individuals with similar interests and volunteering backgrounds. “It kind of felt like we were all the same person,” she says. “I felt like we all should have went to school together. Because it would have been a really awesome school. Everyone there just loves what they do and loves helping out their community.”

“I was the only person from O-G that went, and I didn’t know anybody going. That first day we’re all strangers in a small group. Then, by the end of the weekend, nobody wanted to leave each other. We were planning on when we were going to meet again this summer. The bond and friendship you build in just four days with everyone is just really cool.”

“We did this thing called a ‘Passion Project’ where we got to invent our own way of helping our community. We formed groups and discussed what we could do… Mine was to work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters - getting it out to other communities. I know that a lot of communities don’t have it… We can get it out to other areas and bigger counties to help them.”

When asked what advice she might offer to future attendees of the HOBY Conference, Warnecke offered, “I would say, not to be scared, but to really go for it. Because I was really scared going into it. I got there and told my mom that I didn’t want to go. But, once you get there, and you start meeting people, you realize that it’s fun.”

“I learned how to be a stronger leader. Just because you’re the one person in the crowd that’s going a different way - it’s okay to be that person. And, [I learned] to help direct other people to get where they need to go.”