ASHTABULA — Drums were just one way of communicating Friday for more than two dozen high school seniors seeking to broaden their horizons and meet future challenges.

Youth Launchpad, a program created by LEADERship Ashtabula County, brings together seniors from Ashtabula County high schools who challenge each other to be leaders and entrepreneurs and work to alleviate problems in the county, said program manager Stacy Stevenson.

The group promotes ideas throughout the nine-month program that meets monthly, Stevenson said. All of the participants already completed a LEADERship program during their junior year.

On Friday, Julie Licata, an associate professor of music at State University of New York in Oneonta and a 1998 Ashtabula High School graduate, returned to her roots to provide students an opportunity to get beyond their boundaries and communicate with others through an all-day workshop at the Ashtabula Arts Center.

"Today's workshop is all about building confidence," Stevenson said.

The students participated in a variety of interactive workshops that included drills taking on a communication style — such as leader or arguer — and conveying it through bongo drums.

"We are all making fools of ourselves. We are getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable," Licata said.

The monthly leadership programs have also included a meeting with the chief executive officer of "We Can Code It," a workshop at Lakeland Community College and meetings with the owners of Halcyon and the Ashtabula County Visitor's Bureau, Stevenson said.

At each stop in the process, the student's ideas to improve the community are fine-tuned and include ways to deal with societal problems, such as mental health and addiction, in Ashtabula County.

Connor Kovach, of St. John School, said Friday's communication drill helped him feel more comfortable in a different situation.

Kovach said the program will help him prepare for college when he attends West Virginia University next year. He got involved with Youth Launchpad to be with people interested in similar approaches to life and learning.

"I want to be with people who are like-minded," he said.

Licata said she was excited to be back in Ashtabula.

"It's awesome. It is really fun to be engaged with other people than my family," she said.


Stevenson said Youth Launchpad is funded by grants and also partners on entrepreneurial programs with others organizations including Youth Opportunities, the Ashtabula County YMCA and Grand River Academy.

"The whole point of this program is to get them ready for the next step," Stevenson said.

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