With the help and leadership of Mr. Ray Cowen from Chick-fil-a and Mrs. Heerema from EC, a brand new opportunity has been given to the students of Eastern Christian. Due to the sponsorship of the local Chick-fil-a in Mahwah, New Jersey, Chick-fil-a Leader Academy has started up at EC, with 30 students signed up in the first cohort. The students get the opportunity to learn leadership skills and put themselves to work through service. Although the program has just kicked off, there is a lot of information about it.
This program was able to kickoff at EC because of Mrs. Heerema; she is one of the high school teachers and is the main instructor of the program. When asked about how Chick-fil-a and EC were connected, Mrs. Heerema said, “The owner of the Ramsey Chick-fil-A has a history of hiring our students. When they first opened, Ray Cowen came here to interview students right in our building. Since then we have often had multiple students on staff at the restaurant.” This was able to happen because of some high school students at EC that work at the restaurant, who inspired Mr. Ray Cowen to grant the high school a great opportunity.
After hearing about the program, many students wondered about what the program is all about. “I am very excited about the Chick-fil-A Leader Academy,” says Mrs. Heerema, “It is a beautifully designed program that guides students in an exploration of what it means to lead through service in your career and in your life.” This program is all about building up good skills that grow and last.
The program has only had a couple of meetings so far, but they have been very interesting. Mrs. Heerema said, “In the kick-off, the students were surprised at the end with gift cards for Chick-fil-A. One was to keep and one was to thank someone with. They were challenged to consider who is a key figure in their lives and bless that person with a special thank you note and a free meal. The students' responses were fun and we shared who was blessed in our Google Classroom in October.” The participants of the program were challenged to be outside of their comfort zones on their first meeting. This program is all about making the participants stand out and make a difference.
The students involved are also very excited about this opportunity. Michael Cook is a student who is participating in this program. Cook is a leader at EC in both Varsity Soccer and Varsity Lacrosse. Cook said, “I wanted to sign up because I wanted to get more involved with service as an Eastern Christian student and this seemed to be just that.” Cook is ready and willing to lead and serve, he was very pumped up about this chance to better himself and impact others. After the successful kickoff meeting, Cook said, “I feel like we have a great opportunity and we are going to do some great stuff this year.” Michael Cook is a student who is a perfect example of a leader, so he was very drawn to this chance to grow as a person. This year, as Cook said, “I hope to gain some more knowledge on leadership and do some great service things throughout the year.” Service and leadership development are what the participants will gain through this opportunity.
There is a lot of hope for how this program will turn out. Mrs. Heerema said, “My goal is to bring real interactions back into the building. I want to see them physically engaging in life, savoring every day as a gift, and thinking about how life is not without meaning. All of this suffering and all of the unknown doesn't matter when you live in the present moment. You have this one opportunity today to bless someone. You have one day more to be the light. What I want them to see is that the Body of Christ is diverse, but when we work together, we can make a big impact. We need all of these unmatched abilities to recognize that we cannot grade this ability. It isn't a typical class, but it is very deserving of being in the school. We are blessed to have Mr. and Mrs. Cowen guiding us and supporting this program. They are sharing personal experiences, funding the ideas, and encouraging the students to do beautiful things each month. I am a lucky teacher to have been asked to facilitate.”
The future of the program looks very bright. There are 30 students in this program and all of them are going to become better versions of themselves. When talking about the next months, Mrs. Heerema said, “This next month will focus on operating in your authentic giftings, and I look forward to being a part of the second project launching in December.” Later, when discussing the far future, Mrs. Heerema said, “There will be a project at the end of the year that will be the culmination of their learning about serving others. I have learned as a facilitator that the best thing for me to do is encourage, strategize a bit, and sit back to see where their imaginations take them. It can't be my idea. This must be owned by the group. That is how they go all-in and that is when God helps them flex their spiritual giftings to bring love to others.”