Youth Leadership Academy Rock Project Promotes Individuality

Photography / Provided

Sometimes a message really penetrates when it’s written on something concrete — like a rock.

Leadership Johnson County (LJC) is an adult leadership class that’s coordinated through Franklin College. The Youth Leadership Academy, the youth division of LJC, has a goal to complete a class community service project each year. These are determined by the Johnson County Community Foundation and voted on by the current class members. Last fall, the Johnson County Community Foundation presented a few ideas to the students, and they voted on the project that they wanted to complete as a class — one involving rocks.

“As a participant of the LJC Youth Leadership Academy, one of our many tasks was to develop a project idea that would include all school corporations in the Johnson county area,” says Savannah Waddick. “We chose to develop a rock garden. The purpose for this project was to show how unique individuals could come together to make our community a more inclusive and vibrant place to live, work, lead and play.”

The project was called “Only One You” and was inspired by Linda Kranz’s book by the same name. Students in the Youth Leadership Academy painted rocks similar to the fish rocks found on the pages in this book. They involved community groups throughout Johnson County in the painting as well. This rock garden is now showcased at Greenwood’s Independence Park.

“As you look at the painted rocks, you will find that each one is unique, much like our students,” says Amy Kelsay, Program Coordinator of Youth Leadership Academy. “We have enjoyed the creativity of our youth, and we hope that park patrons will enjoy this aspect as well.”

In November students formed a project steering committee. Then in February 2020, they secured 800 rocks. The Youth Leadership Academy project committee was charged with the task of organizing painting sessions within their respective school corporations. Multiple groups contributed to the painted rocks, including a number of local elementary, middle and high schools as well as bible clubs, 4-H clubs and best buddy programs.

Isaiah Estes enjoyed promoting the “Only One You” message.

“It encourages people to be themselves while showing them how their uniqueness creates a beautiful masterpiece,” Estes says.

Noah Zahm says the project taught him about how to work collaboratively in the community.

“Working together to build this project has strengthened the community and brought people together to admire one another’s differences and build something grand,” Zahm says.

On June 13, the students finished their project by placing the painted rocks in a rock garden near the entrance of Independence Park, which was followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The YLA does its part to help students practice networking skills via lunches with businesses and community leaders.

“I have witnessed many students stepping up into leadership roles this year and certainly trying things that are out of their comfort zones,” Kelsay says.

The Academy Rock Project is close to Emily Peters’ heart because she worked on it with the essential skills students at her school, whom she works with on a daily basis and with whom she has formed a close bond.

“Only One You will hopefully help park visitors understand everyone is unique in their own way, but we’re all worthy of love,” Peters says.

Maecee Terhune agrees.

“I believe that it can help people to realize the importance of being their own unique selves,” Terhune says. “It allows the whole community to see how important it is to embrace yourself and your personality.”

As for Kelsay, she has enjoyed getting to know the students during this program.

“I love that they represent all of our public corporations and a private school in Johnson County,” Kelsay says. “They are amazing people.”

The 2021 YLA class kicks off August 8 at its Opening Retreat.  Recruitment for the 2022 YLA class begins in January 2021. For more information on LJC Youth Leadership Academy, contact Amy Kelsay at

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