For the third annual Journey to the West trip, where Club members are exposed to the travel industry and explore the Western states of Wyoming and Idaho, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC) added a new leadership opportunity to the ever-growing experience.

‘Leaders in Training.’ 

Club members who had gone on either of the previous two trips returned as Leaders in Training. These five individuals served as leaders and mentors for the younger participants.

The result was a huge success for BGCC and partners Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, and these positions will continue for future trips. The youth leaders related with the 

Click above to see BGCC's Leader in Training Ashanti speak about the Journey to the West trip on WGN's Spotlight Chicago program.

younger participants, while providing a different perspective than the adult chaperones. 

“Being a leader was amazing,” Leader in Training Leslie said. “It gave me a structure of being able to do something for someone other than just myself. It was fun being able to lead reflection to the participants and have them engage.”

Leslie, who attended the Journey to the West trip last year, said she thought it was important for the participants to have leaders closer in age to them so they had peers they could look up to throughout the trip.

Yanelli, a participant in the first Journey to the West trip in 2021, agreed. 

“We had to be motivators, mentors and, of course, just a shoulder to lean on,” Yanelli said. “For many of us, this was the first time traveling out of Illinois, meaning challenges and new experiences awaited. This helped me learn how to communicate with others, manage problem-solving skills, and decision-making skills.” 

During this year’s Journey to the West Trip, like in years past, participants are challenged emotionally and physically. They participate in unique experiences such as morning meditation, mile-long hikes, whitewater rafting, and yoga. They also get an opportunity to learn about local businesses and agriculture. 

Most importantly, our youth learn a lot about themselves – which is no different for the Leaders in Training. 

“I learned that I am a good communicator and can help people who are struggling with adapting to new experiences,” Yanelli said. 

She spoke about how she helped a younger participant conquer their fear of heights during the ropes courses. She helped them through breathing exercises and helped them manage that challenge. 

Leslie and Yanelli said the life-changing experience had impacted their future in a positive way, and they would recommend the trip to anyone interested in a new adventure. 

“This is a trip where you are able to learn and see new things,” Leslie said. “Being able to push yourself past your limits and have fun. Making new friends and learning from people who enjoy telling you their experiences and how they were able to become successful in a career they thrive in.” 

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