October 16 and 17 marked the birth of an exciting new youth leadership program at CYM, the Ukrainian American Youth Association. On this weekend, CYM’s first national Leadership Seminar was held in Washington D.C., and was hosted at the Ukrainian Embassy.
After weeks of anticipation, the first minutes following our arrival at the Embassy of Ukraine’s imposing historical mansion were filled with a sense of excitement, not only for the young seminar participants, but for their mentors as well. We were met by two representatives of the Ukrainian government, Vice-Consul Oleksij Sviatun, and the Second Secretary for Culture, Education, Science and Healthcare, Nataliia Holub. After formal but very warm greetings from our hosts, we embarked on a tour of the Embassy, led and narrated by Ms. Holub. Since the date of our seminar preceded Ukrainian presidential elections by only a handful of days, our timing allowed us to witness the recently constructed polling station for Ukrainian citizens residing in the Unites States to cast their ballots for the next President of Ukraine. We went on to an adjoining hall that is often used to host cultural and musical events, and leads to a large meeting room where portraits of Taras Shevchenko and George Washington hang auspiciously and dominantly in the room, which is decorated in a historical style and often used to host meetings with American diplomats. The history and the current significance of what we were experiencing on the Embassy grounds were particularly impressive to us given the theme of our gathering.
Our hosts invited us to the Embassy’s upper floors, to the meeting quarters where the Ukrainian diplomatic corps typically gather, and where meetings hosted by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States are held. On this day, we were honored with an opportunity to meet and speak personally with Ambassador Mykhailo Reznik, an interaction which made a particularly strong and lasting impression for the entire group of sumivtsi. The Ambassador spoke to us about youth and students in Ukraine and in the United States, about education and universities, as well as about opportunities such as exchange programs and scholarship-funded opportunities to study in Ukrainian educational institutions. We presented to Ambassador Reznik a commemorative plaque expressing CYM’s appreciation and thanks for the unique opportunity to meet and interact at the Ukrainian Embassy. We also wanted to leave a more personal keepsake of our meeting with the Ambassador, and had decided to present him and our other diplomatic hosts with imprinted shirts bearing the name of this year’s Vyshkilnyj Tabir, a counselor-in-training camp that most of our seminar participants have attended. Our meeting with Ambassador Reznik concluded and the Embassy’s photographer appeared, to commemorate the occasion with group photographs.
Returning to the building’s lower levels, the first sessions of our seminar got underway. The large hall where we would be spending most of the next two days had a name – the Stone Hall – a reference to the material and masonry which made up the room’s walls. The room had a warm feel about it, and despite the excitement and awe of being in the Embassy of Ukraine, we immediately felt comfortably at home in this place. Introductions were made, beginning with the participants who had been selected to travel to Washington from a range of locales: Svitlana Goncharoff (Palatine, IL), Christina Keryczynskyj (Chicago, IL), Katherine Kleban (Whippany,NJ), Andriy Leskiw (Philadelphia, PA), Oleh Romaniw (Passaic, NJ), and Tania Zurawski (Passaic, NJ). Next, the National Executive’s chief organizers of the seminar, Lida Mykytyn (Vice President) and Andriy Bihun (Director of Youth) gave an introduction which explained the format of the seminar and the topics and themes that would dominate the sessions. The first day would be dedicated to the introduction and development of a number of concepts and ideas about leadership pertaining to many aspects of life, while the second day would focus those ideas and apply them specifically to work within CYM.
The seminar’s opening session was led by Olena Halkowycz, a veteran CYM vykhovnyk, with an educational background in psychology and sociology, with certification in leadership development. Ms. Halkowycz introduced leadership as a general concept to the young audience, in a talk that evolved into an analysis of traits and characteristics of a good leader, as well as an in-depth comparison of leadership styles and roles. The next session featured Michael Sawkiw, Jr., the recently re-elected President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and long time CYM member. Mr. Sawkiw explored what it takes to be a leader of an ethnic community at the national level, as well as the distinct skills that differentiate effective community leaders from mediocre ones. He compared the Ukrainian community to other ethnic minority communities in the United States, and discussed specific reasons why Ukrainians excel in maintaining a strong organized presence that serves its constituents and is also politically influential in bringing Ukrainian issues to the attention of the American government.
By midday, we had all built up hearty appetites, and were given the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of the Embassy’s world class chef and her staff. We had been looking forward to some Ukrainian cuisine, but this was anything but the typical “baba’s kitchen” fare that most of us were used to. We were impressed with the multiple courses of creations that we feasted on for lunch each of those two days, a collection of culinary artistry both to our eyes and our taste buds.
The afternoon started off with consecutive sessions co-hosted by sumivtsi Andrij Horbachevskyj and Bohdan Shevchyk. Mr. Horbachevswkyj, whose educational background is in engineering and management, is currently Director of Continuous Improvement at Steinway & Sons, maker of world renowned instruments of music. Mr. Shevchyk, an entrepreneur with a successful online retail business, is former General Director of Coca-Cola’s Ukraine operations and well as the first head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine. The two speakers led a dynamic and challenging interactive workshop which made the audience think and work to apply principles of project management and leadership to real world situations. Individual and group exercises focused on specific areas such as strategies for a successful negotiator, time management in a complex project, and much more.
Genya Kuzmowycz-Blahy headed the day’s last formal session. Ms. Kuzmowycz-Blahy, whose background features an MBA and an impressive resume in the business and banking world, is currently Chief Operating Officer at Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union. This session explored the important role of marketing in an organization led by an effective leader. Rich with colorful and interesting true stories from the banking world of New York, audience members were treated to valuable lessons about image, perception, and selling your organization and yourself.
After a long day of hard work, our group treated itself to a several hour tour of historic Washington D.C. We stopped at a number of famous monuments and architectural and historical landmarks that the capitol city is famous for, and made it back to our hotel at a rather late hour. Tomorrow would be another day.
Sunday proved to be as varied and rich as the preceding day. We traveled as a group to Washington’s Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family to attend morning Mass, and there met a number of local Ukrainians living in the area. Back at the Embassy, where we were joined by Vice-Consul Roman Andarak, today’s sessions would focus on extending our study of leadership and applying it specifically to work in our own organization. The day’s activities and exercises would revolve around organizing and running a fictional summer camp, a central theme chosen because such a camp behaves as a micro model of larger communities, and hence brings about opportunities for a great many types of leadership. The workshop was run jointly by seminar organizers Lida Mykytyn and Andriy Bihun, together with Petro Kosciolek, a businessman with leadership experience in the hotel management industry who currently holds the title of Executive Director of CYM’s Ellenville resort. The workshop focused on individual facets requiring diverse leadership skills, such as concept building, understanding your target market, practical administrative and management skills, budgeting and financing, program development, project management, hiring and volunteerism, advertising and much more.
Upon completion of an intensive two day program, the group of young sumivtsi professed to having gained a new appreciation for what it takes to organize and lead, not only within the context of a youth organization, but also to lead in professional or in personal life. This Leadership Seminar was fully funded by CYM’s National Educational Fund, and attendees consisted of a select group of high school juniors and seniors that were invited on the basis of a six month process which began with the nomination of candidates by their local CYM branch and involved a rigorous competitive process. Because of the funding which was established by the National Executive, the high school students were able to attend completely cost-free, on a scholarship basis.
The participants reflect the potential future leaders of CYM and of our community, and CYM’s National Executive is developing plans to expand the Leadership Seminar program into a yearly event. “We felt equally pleased and privileged when Vice-Consul Sviatun kindly expressed the desire of the Ukrainian Embassy to maintain ongoing communication and a continued relationship with the Ukrainian American Youth Association, with the possibility of hosting the Leadership Seminar on an ongoing basis”, said Ms. Mykytyn on the final day of the event.
Our thanks to Ambassador Reznik and his diplomatic staff for their warmth and hospitality which was instrumental in making our seminar a valuable and memorable success; to sumivka Marta Matselioukh who was key in organizing and coordinating logistics for our stay in our nation’s capital; and to Nusia Kerda who served as our advisor on local matters.
For more information about CYM’s Leadership Seminar program, please visit www.cym.org/us or contact your local CYM branch.