PARKERSBURG - Supporting the effort to teach and build leadership skills was the focus at the first iBELIEVE Foundation benefit dinner Wednesday in Parkersburg.
Connie Miley, director of programming and outreach for iBELIEVE, said the purpose was to raise funds to help send students to summer leadership workshops.
West Virginia students will attend classes at West Liberty State University near Wheeling and Ohio students will attend the same classes at Wright State University near Dayton, Miley said.
Miley said the program covers students in Appalachia and follows a model from the Ohio Association of Student Councils with learning opportunities that are hands on and give students experiences in situations dealing with problem solving, team building, communicating and making decisions.
"Literally it deals with all the big concepts that are part of what the experts are calling 21st century skills," she said. "That's what we do."
In 2010, when it was founded by Patrick Klein, 32 students were sent to workshops in Ohio. In 2012 the program expanded to Wood, Roane, Jackson, Calhoun, Ritchie, Pleasants, Marshall and Ohio counties in West Virginia.
In West Virginia 32 attended the workshops and 51 attended last year. More than 200 students have attended the workshops over three years in Ohio.
Guest speaker at the benefit was Logan, Ohio, native Katie Smith, a former Ohio State University basketball player who was on two teams that reached the women's final four, a former WNBA player and three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Smith said Klein established the program to empower those who might otherwise not be empowered.
"His vision and his passion is to empower individuals and students and allow them to have opportunities," she said. "It gives them a foundation to handle anything that comes their way."
Smith said it is not a skill like math but one that covers everything.
"No matter what you get thrown into, what comes your way, you have a way to process it and find an answer in some way," she said.
Smith said the training provided makes it possible to be ready for whatever may present itself.
"It's the hard work and preparation when those doors open and opportunities are there, you are ready to go," she said.
"Sometimes you want to plan out your life," she said. "It's flexibility you learn; it gives you the basic skills. Being flexible and adaptable is what it takes to have success today because it is always changing and evolving and that's what life is."
In addition, Ray Blackburn, owner of Wendy's franchises in Parkersburg and Marietta, was honored with the organization's 2013 iLEAD award.