My name is Ava Esther Williams and I am a junior at Leon HighschooI. I was so honored and pleasantly surprised when I got an email from my amazing program director, Lili Childree, asking me to be a guest editor for Leadership Tallahassee’s monthly eNews. I’ve never thought of myself as an author, but I would love any opportunity to talk about how much I love and appreciate the YLT program. During my sophomore year, my mom mentioned YLT and said that I should send in an online application. I sent one in, not really knowing what I was applying for, but knowing it was a very prestige program. After talking to some of my teachers and friends about the YLT program, I knew this was something I’d really like to be a part of. When I heard I got an interview I was ecstatic, because I felt like this was really my time to shine.

I went into the interview not knowing what to expect at all, but I was immediately welcomed with encouraging and enthusiastic smiles. While walking out of the interview, I felt satisfied that even if I didn’t make it into the program, I still got a great first interview experience. When I found out I got in I was super excited, but also very nervous, knowing that our first program was a 2-day retreat with kids I had never met before, and if I had, it would have been years. On the retreat we quickly realized that everyone there was used to being the leader. We took a test before the retreat which assessed our strengths and what were specific strengths were. Throughout the weekend we figured out ways that we could use our differing strengths and work together as one. At the retreat we also played games which gave us an understanding of accepting other people’s cultures and a preview of the humanitarian stuff we would be doing later in the program. We ended the retreat walking around the campgrounds blindfolded and led by one of our non-blindfolded YLT peers. Although the activity was exhausting, it taught us that with the right communication, we as a team can accomplish something that may at first seem impossible. One thing that I took away from the retreat was that to reach my full YLT potential, I would have to go out of my comfort zone.

As of the time I’m writing this, we have had 4 super cool program days. For our first program day “Business and Financial Literacy” we had to present our own shark tank idea with our assigned groups to a panel of local business owners. Everyone’s ideas were really interesting, and it gave us good insight into what being an entrepreneur is like. Our second program day was “Arts and Culture” where we got to meet local artists, check out some local historical spots around town, and browsed a few museums, one of which I didn’t even know existed, but I’ve already planned a trip back to! My favorite program day so far has been the “Humanitarian” day, where we got to learn about all sorts of different organizations that work to help the less fortunate. We got to learn about what Goodwill and The Salvation Army do behind the scenes, and also got a chance to meet the great team with the Tallahassee Boys and Girls Club. Throughout this program day, I learned so much about the Tallahassee population and the various situations people are in. Coming from a private school, I found that very informative and I think that it’s important to understand what others may be going through. Our most recent program day was “Government and Media”, where we got to spend most of the day in the Leon County Courthouse and City Hall talking to local commissioners and the Mayor about Tallahassee and local government. Not only has YLT already given me so many cool experiences I never would have had otherwise, but it has also opened my horizons to so many fun, smart, caring friends from all over Tallahassee. I’d say one of the coolest things about YLT is how diverse it is, and it has shown me that there is no “one way” to be a leader, but that leadership manifests in everyone differently. I am so thankful that I’ve gotten this opportunity, and it has already taught me so many valuable things I didn’t know before.