Connecting Parks and Leadership – by Marysol Hernandez

Mike Arrington explains a recreation activity to LPW's summer youth academy in 2018
Mike Arrington explains a recreation activity to LPW’s summer youth academy in 2018

headshot of Marysol Hernandez Community Engagement SpecialistIt’s finally fall! As we continue this fall season and get closer to winter it seems many people are reminiscing on the warm summer days. I have always been a fall/winter type of girl, but after this year’s summer, I can’t help but be excited for the next!

I spent most of my summer in Florida with my family and out on summer adventures with my friends. However, in between all the adventures I also had to work. Oddly enough, I actually enjoy working summers because I get to do things like direct summer camps, attend events, and probably the best part of working this summer, I got to help out at Leadership Prince William’s Summer Youth Academy.

Leadership Prince William Summer Youth Academy is a two week program where rising middle school and high school students learn how to become leaders by engaging in their community, learning skills from current leaders, and connecting with others. I stepped in during the second week of the program  as co-leader with Sarah Poole. Being introduced to the campers as their new instructor was interesting. The kids had a hard time believing I was close to their age since a lot of them were around 15-17 years old.

My biggest concern working with teens is always whether or not they will respect and treat me like an authority figure, especially being so close to their age. Working with teens for as long as I have has made me realize that it’s how you choose to present yourself and interact with them that determines how they will treat you. I didn’t expect the kids to think of me as their supervisor, nor did I want them to. I just wanted them to see me as another leader and I think that’s why they were able to relate to me so much.

It took a day or two for the teens to get used to me, but after that it was smooth sailing. Some of my favorite memories with them were going on different field trips around our community. It was interesting seeing how much they already knew about the topics we were discussing and to see what silly questions they asked the tour guides. With all the jokes, questions, and activities, there was never a dull moment with them.

The kids also participated in an activity called “Making It Real” where they were given real life scenarios and had to find a way to make their situation stable with the budget they had. I was dying of laughter seeing how some of them handled their situations. Other times I was helping them through the process by giving them advice or sharing experiences from my life and how I handled it. During the end of the Summer Youth Academy, they had to create a lemonade stand and raise money for a charity of their choice. This project was to teach them responsibility, organization, and teamwork – and boy did they kill it! They had an amazing turnout and the best part of it all was that they discovered their voice and role in a team setting.

I had many conversations with these kids throughout the camp. Some were random and casual, but others were more personal. A lot of them asked me questions about my career and others asked me for advice on being a leader. I love that I got the chance to be a role model for these kids. From what they told me they really appreciated that I took the time to just talk to them and treat them more like colleagues rather than kids. I hope that I inspired them to not put an age limit on their abilities as humans and as future leaders just as much as they inspired me to do the same.

If you think you’re ready to become a leader join the Summer Youth Academy. Summer Youth Academy parent info session will be held on March 11th, 2020 @ 6:00pm-7:00pm. Online applications open in January!

Marysol Hernandez is the Community Engagement Specialist for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. She can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at

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    LPW is 100% posting this to all of our social media and to our website. Marysol, you are amazing! It’s not always easy to connect with teenagers, even as a young adult. People like you and Sarah are gifted and incredibly valuable. You showed such leadership in stepping in to our program and we were lucky to have you.

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