In the midst of summer vacation, student Daniel Hagen found himself alone in front of Monroe City Councilmember Jim Kamp and Toastmasters International local representative Mark Van Valkenburg.

The two were about to cast judgment on his ability to speak before an audience and communicate an idea to improve the community. Both teams competing against him for the top spot had multiple presenters.

Hagen took a few minutes to pitch a plan to demolish an abandoned building near Lake Tye Park that is notorious in the community. He suggested building a museum in its place that would benefit all ages. A portion of the profits would go to a local charity.

His presentation made an impression.

Kamp said he wanted to select Hagen as the winner of Sharing the Sky Valley solely based on the guts he showed getting up alone in front of two adults. He looked good, held himself well and explained his position. All that was missing was how the student intended to carry out the project, and his projection could use a little improvement, he said.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up,” Kamp said. “You’ve got a good voice.”

Hagen was one of about a dozen high school and middle school students who attended a free workshop hosted by Mike Brady. The Monroe resident is also a member of the Toastmasters and manager of the insurance agency Trumpeter Planning. Between Aug. 21-23, the group met in the morning for the skills learning.

On the first day they laid the foundation by watching videos and discussing how elements like stance, tone and articulation can make or break a speech.

Brady pointed to the work of Albert Mehrabian, who determined through research that effective verbal communication is only 7 percent dependent on the words used. About 55 percent is visual and the remaining 38 percent is vocal.

On day two, the three groups practiced synthesizing what they already learned in front of their friends and the strangers they had just met the day before. Alison Alex got up and told everyone how she used to steal money and get into fights. She spoke about how she discovered that behavior was wrong, and the importance of standing up against peer pressure.

“Don’t let anybody tell you what to do or push you around,” she said. “So, here is the lesson: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Jackie Martinez talked about bullying. People are hurt mentally and physically because of it. People can commit suicide. The 11-year-old recalled a friend of hers who was bullied and hurt herself badly enough to go to the hospital, and she received stitches as a result.

“Just talking about it makes me nervous,” she said.

Every speech was met with a loud round of applause. Following the rehearsal session they broke into groups and debated how to make the Sky Valley a better place. Alex, Cheryn Hagen and Victoria Castro discussed the pros and cons of throwing a new parade in town and constructing an indoor waterpark.

Brady was beaming by the end of the day. It was the kind interchange he was hoping most to see. He developed the format for teaching leadership and communication skills years ago, but has only had the chance to implement the short-term lesson plan a number of times.

It is crucial that younger generations grow these skills now, because they will be the ones running the show one day, Brady said. Learning to listen and respect each other’s opinions, even when they differ, is critical to progress anywhere. So many, however, have little access to the learning opportunity, which is why he provides the course for free.

The Toastmasters sponsored the recent meetings in Monroe, but Brady intends to expand his program to other communities. The hope is that organizations will step up and invite in youth who could gain from the experience elsewhere, he said.

Monroe Boys and Girls Clubs teen coordinator Athena McAlarney came with about half dozen children who were participating in the organization’s summer programs. She said Brady had approached staff to ask if there were any club members who wanted to participate.

McAlarney said she changed plans for another scheduled field trip in order for them to attend. It was a chance she was ready to jump on. She said she has seen the likes of similar training cost hundreds of dollars in other parts of the country.

“I think that Mike volunteering to do this free of charge gives equal access to everyone in the community,” she said.

It is especially important for youth to feel heard and valued, McAlarney said. They need their thoughts to be validated, and Brady’s class was a place to express themselves in a professional setting, she said.

After each of the three groups gave their culminating speeches, McAlarney said she already saw some changes in her children. Students like Martinez, who usually remained quiet in front of a crowd, were able to stand alone and voice their opinions, she said.

The 11-year-old said she was able to meet new people and learn confidence. She said it turned out to be fun, although it was something that fell outside of her comfort zone.

Kamp and Van Valkenburg settled on Alex, Cheryn Hagen and Castro’s plan to start up a July 4 parade in Monroe. The three girls had started their speech with a message on what they planned to talk about, each took a turn speaking, and they outlined the impact and how to make the event happen.

The largest group, which consisted of five kids, was the runner up. Shelby Nolan did most of the talking, which docked them some points, but they had decided among themselves it would be less confusing if she took the lead.

Nolan talked about their idea to address the same abandoned building also discussed by Daniel Hagen. She talked about the drug use that occurs in the derelict structure, the dangers of its presence, and how getting rid of it could potentially remove some risk and temptations for the community’s youth.

Kamp said he had heard about the building for years. He said he never understood how impactful it was until he heard Nolan talk. He said he wanted to speak to the council and see if the winning group, but hopefully all three, would be invited to present their plans at an upcoming meeting.

“You made an imprint,” Brady said to the kids. “You really made an imprint.”