When Barbara calls, you answer. On the heels of our first COVID-19 year, Barbara and Lili asked if I would be willing to serve as the Youth Leadership Tallahassee (YLT) Curriculum Chair. An ever-diligent LT member, I did not hesitate to say yes. Just like raising my own kids, we had some growing pains, but we all survived and thrived. At the end of our program year, I am confident that the students taught me more about being a leader than I did them.
YLT Class 18 was unlike any other. These high school juniors are eager, engaged, and active—oh boy are they active—physically, emotionally, and verbally. Their YLT retreat was the first time they had engaged with a large group of their peers since 2020, something we, as adults, took for granted. It was truly a battle of wills for those first few days. Ms. Casey does not play ya’ll, and a student let me know towards the end of the year that the class was terrified of me for the first few days.
YLT Class 18 opened my eyes to the importance of two-way open communication; to grow as leaders we need to ask: what kind of leader do you want to be? We spend our time telling students/kids what they should be doing or learning. Lili & I learned to appreciate how important open communication is, not just in the workplace, but with students, as well. We had a theme for this year—be flexible. Creating interactive online program day polls allowed us to tap into how the kids were feeling—did they have a base knowledge about the topics we would discuss that day? what are they interested in?—and how to engage their different leadership styles. My favorite student response of the year was to the question: “what is stressing you out today?”
Student answer: The weight of my existence.
Same, child, same.
They kept us on our toes, but it was a joy to watch them develop a deeper appreciation for the community, enhance leadership skills, learn life skills, and question their future paths. The staff of local organizations opened their doors wide to expose Class 18 to the inner workings of our city. The greatest part was not just seeing vocal student leaders engage with our community, it was the quiet actions of service that they did when nobody was looking. The quiet conversations of a student sharing the financial aid opportunities they were given by mentors, the young ladies who privately asked if they could take snacks and a to-go lunch to the homeless individuals downtown, the student who always checked in on our reserved quiet students making sure that they felt included and supported. They want to make our community and world a better place, and I have no hesitation in saying they will succeed.
If you are looking for a way to become involved, I would encourage you to engage with the next generation of leaders with Youth Leadership Tallahassee. YLT always needs meal sponsors, volunteers for program days, student externships, and student board positions for our YLT students. These students are the future, and the kids are alright.