Graduates of the 16th annual Alabama Governor’s Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) left Troy University better equipped to take charge of their own lives following the five-day event that focused on self-esteem, self-advocacy, independent living, and assistive technology.
Twenty-seven students with disabilities participated in this year’s forum. The delegates are selected through a statewide competition that seeks students with disabilities who have leadership potential. The group reflects the state’s demographic makeup in terms of geography, gender, ethnicity, and types of disabilities. To be eligible to participate, students must be a junior or senior in high school, be between 17 and 21 years of age, and have a disability.
Each year, the event helps shape high school students with disabilities through sessions on self-esteem, self-advocacy, career choice, independent living options, and leadership.
“YLF provides an opportunity unlike any other for young people with disabilities,” said Karen Jenkins, YLF coordinator. “Witnessing the transformation these delegates undergo in a matter of days is such a positive experience. We empower youth to become involved in all aspects of society.”
Emphasis at the forum is placed on composing a Personal Leadership Plan (PLP) to assist delegates in becoming leaders in their communities. While the majority of the forum’s activities take place in Troy, the group also spent an entire day in Montgomery touring the Capitol, learning about state government, and seeking advice from successful adults with disabilities at the Angeline Pinckard Mentor Luncheon.
Jacy Todd, Daphne High School assistant football coach, served as honored guest speaker at the luncheon. Todd received a spinal cord injury when he was ejected from his vehicle in a wreck that occurred in August 2012. With the help of Vocational Rehabilitation Service, Todd was able to return to work in January 2013. Todd’s amazing story was featured in the 2013 ADRS Annual Report.
YLF is a program of ADRS. Troy University provides the facilities and other logistical support for the event. Additional funding for this year’s forum was provided by the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
“The amount of preparation for YLF is immense – it takes many meetings to get everything pulled together,” said Jenkins. “When you reach graduation day, you realize just how meaningful all of the preparation is.”
Only a few weeks after the last graduate leaves the Troy campus, the steering committee begins planning for the next YLF. In fact, the committee’s first planning meeting for YLF 2015 – to be held May 31 through June 4 – will be in mid-October.