Between having fun and making new friends, A-Chai'a Jackson learned an invaluable lesson at the 15th Annual Florida Youth Leadership Forum (YLF.)
"Disabilities are something to be proud of," the first-time YFL delegate said. "You shouldn't be ashamed of it."
Jackson, 19, has a learning disability. Participating in YLF has given him a new sense of empowerment. The four-day forum , sponsored by The Able Trust, teaches high-school students with a wide-range of disabilities about career planning and leadership skills. The Able Trust is a non-profit organization that provides Floridians with disabilities opportunities for employment. YFL is part of this mission.
The Capital City welcomed 38 delegates, also known as first-time YFL students, this past Wednesday. There were also 25 returning staff members. Delegates and staff members came from all over Florida to learn how to expand their horizons with career opportunities.
"We are looking to promote empowerment and self-confidence for each of our students," Ray Ford, director of the Florida YLF and The Able Trust director of communications.
The forum hosted a handful of workshops, gatherings, professional development events and mentoring opportunities throughout the week. A few of the workshops were "Independent Living-Life After High School," "Health Relationships," "Managing Your Finances," and "Self Advocacy."
"We try to cover all areas," Ford said. "We do this so our students can get to the point that they feel confident that they can find a job and that they are able to live as independently as they possibly can."
Ford said that YFL uses practical application to help the students confidence grow. For instance, they let students introduce the speakers to help them get accustomed to speaking in front of an audience.
Students can participate in YFL as a delegate for one year. But, many delegates return as staff to help share the skills they learned.
"I want to continue on the message," Ioana Zanchi, a 17-year-old returning facilitator and YLF alum. "We might have wheelchairs and other little things, but ultimately we can accomplish just about anything in the same way, just on a different path."
For Drew Davis, an adult staff member and YLF alum, the skills and tools from YLF have helped him flourish in his career path. Davis has a hearing impairment in the left ear.
He won the YLF Young Adult of the Year Award for creating a version of YLF at his previous high-school in Tampa. Davis recently moved to Atlanta and is using his skills to pursue his goal of becoming a broadcaster at Connecticut School of Broadcasting.
"One of the major things is self advocacy," the 25-year-old said. "If you don't have self advocacy you can't speak up for yourself when you are at college."
Source: Tallahassee Democrat