Youth Leadership Forum
What is the Youth Leadership Forum ?
The Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF) is a unique career leadership training program for high school juniors and seniors with disabilities. By serving as delegates from their communities at a four-day event in their state capital, young people with disabilities cultivate leadership, citizenship, and social skills.
The program was developed by the California Governor's Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons in 1992. The Office of Disability Employment Policy seeks to replicate this initiative around the nation. The YLF is implemented at the state level by state and local partners.
Why is the YLF only for Students with Disabilities?
It is critical that people with disabilities growing into adulthood learn to identify themselves with pride as individuals and as members of the very accomplished disability community. By providing a framework of history and an atmosphere of encouragement, the YLF offers peers with common challenges and experiences the opportunity to learn from one another.
Delegates gain access to vital resources related to assistive technology, community support, and civil rights. Successful men and women with disabilities serve as role models in helping youth realize their ability, right, and obligation to pursue meaningful employment and contribute to society.
What is the YLF All About ?
The educational and motivational forum involves an intense schedule. Throughout the training, small "working groups" explore personal leadership and career plans. Social, artistic, athletic, and recreational activities abound, as these are part of leading a well-rounded life. Guest speakers address such topics as disability rights laws, innovations in technology, and resources at all levels. A guided tour of the state capitol involves interaction with members of the press, government dignitaries, and often the governor. A farewell dance is a time to celebrate accomplishments with new friends.
The key to the YLF is leadership by example. Adults with disabilities who have traveled the same path these young people are facing serve as faculty and staff. Many other volunteers, some with disabilities and some without, help to make the program a success.
YLF alumni take with them an obligation to follow through on goals outlined in "personal leadership plans" that they have written for themselves. In California, past participants of this program have developed an alumni newsletter to share resources. In addition, follow-up activities including corporate mentorships and internships have been established in order to continue networking activities. Often alumni return to the YLF in later years as volunteer staff.
How are delegates selected for the forum?
The delegates are chosen through a statewide competition that seeks students with disabilities who have leadership potential. Each applicant submits a standard form, an essay, and letters of recommendation. The group that is selected is representative of the state in terms of geography, gender, economic status, ethnicity, and types of disabilities.
Is there a cost for Students to attend?
No. The commitment of the YLF is to enable youth with disabilities to grow personally, socially, and academically, and to fulfill their potential in their work and their lives. No student should be denied this opportunity because of economic hardship. All costs, including transportation, are paid for through fundraising, sponsored scholarships, and corporate donations.