Student volunteers assisting with moving boxes of food from a food drive at ECHO’s warehouse.

Students ages 15 to 21 who have an interest in developing leadership skills through serving their community will get an opportunity to accomplish that this summer with ECHO’s (Emergency Care Help Organization) new Youth Leadership Program.

This nine-week program will begin on June 1 and end on Friday, July 31, offering students the chance to earn community service hours and learn about poverty.

During the quarantine months, ECHO shifted to an emergency food distribution plan in order to cater to the needs of the community while following social distancing recommendations. This was especially important because, as a full-service operation, the group relies on a large number of volunteers, the majority of which are over the age of 60.

The Youth Leadership Program was born in an effort to expose new volunteers to ECHO.

According to ECHO’s executive director, Eleanor Saunders, this summer season will likely be very busy for ECHO, which offers a wide variety of assistance and resources to people residing in Hillsborough County who suffered from a recent emergency.

Residents who come to ECHO for assistance are given 20 pounds of food, seven outfits and more with ECHO’s food pantry and clothing closet. The group also provides free life building programs such as GED (General Equivalency Diploma) classes, financial counseling, employment services and much more.

The 75 students in this program will commit to one day a week from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Several trainings will be provided to teach students about core issues and lessons on generational poverty, what causes it, what ECHO does and more. Students will also work on team projects, assist with running the Back to School Community Bash and participate in a team fundraising competition.

There will be a competition consisting of five teams of 15 students. Each team will be responsible for planning one fundraiser for ECHO during the latter part of the summer as a prize will be awarded to the team with the most success. COVID-19 safety protocols will be implemented throughout the program.

“Overall, our goal is that when students finish the program they will be able to see how anyone could end up at our doors,” ECHO Development Coordinator Savanna Thompson said. “We are also grateful for the outpouring of love and support from our community too.”

Visit https://echofl.org. ECHO is located at 507 N. Parsons Ave. in Brandon. Call 685-0935 to learn more.