The 31 graduates of the 19th 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, career exploration, independent living, and assistive technology.
“YLF provides an opportunity to empower young people with disabilities to fully realize their potential to lead,” 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.”
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.
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 spends an entire day in Montgomery touring the Capitol – meeting state leaders, learning about state government, and seeking advice from successful adults with disabilities at the Angeline Pinckard Mentor Luncheon.
Again this year, Timothy Alexander, the student-athlete with a disability who helped lead the push to reinstate the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football program, served as guest speaker at the mentor luncheon. Alexander was a highly recruited football prospect when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a October 2006 car accident. With the help of Vocational Rehabilitation Service, Alexander was able to realize his college and career goals despite his injuries, and his inspiring story was featured in the 2015 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. This latest YLF class was one of the most talented groups I’ve ever encountered in my years with the program, and I expect great things to come from them in the future.”
YLF delegates and guest speaker, Tim Alexander, talk about the importance of leadership and how it affects their lives.
Video by Paul Dunbar