The new program has been in development over the past two years by a steering committee organized by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
On Saturday, the program finally came to fruition when a group of 26 juniors got together at MCLA, most meeting one another for the first time. Program members reflected on their weekend over Monday morning breakfast.
"It was very awkward at first," said junior Dominique Wells of Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton.
"When you go to different schools it's very hard to meet new people," said junior Rebecca Daniels of McCann Technical School in North Adams.
So to break the ice, facilitators from Edgework Consulting led the teenagers through activities like Berkshire Café, a sort of speed-networking activity, and a small group scavenger hunt.
"It was pretty well-organized and really fun," said Lenox Memorial High School student Megan Monteleone.
"By the end of the night, I pretty much knew everyone by name," said Chris Cozzaglio of Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams.
And for the next 10 months, those names and faces will be continuously working together.
The Youth Leadership Program, or simply YLP, aims to educate students to give them leadership skills, show them opportunities and industries in the Berkshires, and help students raise their aspirations for success through monthly meeting sessions and field trips focused on topics such as manufacturing, education, the creative economy, and more.
"The outcome will be interesting because leadership has so many different meanings," said Scotty Ketcham of Taconic High School.
On Monday, they got a daylong taste of what's in store by taking a countywide bus tour to local venues including Mass MoCA, Jiminy Peak, Hancock Shaker Village and the Pittsfield Municipal Airport.
The program is funded in support by Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Bank, Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
In addition to the training, each students who successfully completes the program will receive three transferable dual enrollment college credits through Berkshire Community College. Most of the students also planned on adding the program to their college résumés.
"It's also an opportunity to take on a challenge, to push yourself to do something that you've never done before," said Pittsfield High School junior Dan Raftery.
YLP Steering Committee coordinator Danielle Gonzalez said, "You never know going into something new what the results will be, whether people will like it. But within the past 48 hours with this group, you can see that the light bulb is on."