Sunday, the black Labrador retriever, kept his eyes locked on a dark, plastic toy across a makeshift aisle in the Victoria College Student Center as children cooed and watched the dog.
The dog excitedly paced a few steps forward and back before calmly sitting next to his trainer, motivational speaker Hank Hough of Kingdom Dog Ministries.
Hough then blew a whistle, and Sunday scurried to retrieve the item and proudly showed off his prize to the children.
“I can’t make him be a champion – he has to want to be a champion,” Hough told the children as he patted the top of Sunday’s head. “Just like you want to be a champion. You weren’t made to be good; you were made to be great. But it takes working hard and learning.”
About 50 campers will hone skills to help them become better leaders this summer during the 13th annual Victoria Business and Education Coalition Youth Leadership Conference at Victoria College.
The four-day camp kicked off Monday with a special presentation by the coalition and by Invista. The company is the signature sponsor for the camp this year and donated $15,000 toward the camp.
Capt. Eline Moya, a spokeswoman with the Victoria Police Department and president of the coalition’s board, said investment in youth is crucial because children will be the leaders of the community one day.
“They (the children) come out of their shells, and they build on the skills they have,” Moya said. “You can see by the end of the second day that they have really bonded and see the difference.”
The campers, who are all Crossroads children entering seventh grade this fall, are chosen based on scholarship and leadership skills as well as school and community involvement, said Peter McNally, program director of the coalition.
In addition to leadership skills, the campers learn team-building, organizational development and proper business and dining etiquette. The campers also learn how to instill hope and motivate others through lessons such as the one Hough presented Monday morning.
Camper Reese Little, 11, moved to Victoria from Alabama a few weeks ago and said she was excited to be a part of the leadership conference. Reese has attended other camps in Alabama and was a little nervous to attend her first camp in Victoria.
Her nervousness went away after a few activities Monday morning, which included a tug-of-war game and Ultimate Frisbee.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and learning what it takes to be a leader because I think it is important to have those (leadership) skills,” Reese said.
The future Industrial school district student said she would like to pursue a career as a veterinarian. Reese said she loves learning and plans to pass the skills she learns at the conference to other children.
“I think being a leader means letting others know they can trust you and you will also be there for them when they need you,” Reese said.
Camper Fabian Erazmo said he was also excited to be a part of the leadership conference. The 12-year-old Cade Middle School student said leadership is important for youth because some children can be led down a wrong path.
Fabian said he has learned that with leadership comes responsibility.
“To be a leader, you have to take care of not just yourself but others,” he said.
Fabian said he would like to be a professional gamer on YouTube one day, and he said the conference will help him hone not just his leadership skills but his public speaking skills.
“I’m meeting new people here, and it’s been great so far,” he said. “A leadership program like this is great to have here because so many people can learn new skills.”