Self-Advocacy, independence key lessons of Governor’s Youth Leadership Forum

Youth Leadership Forum delegates pose for photo with Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

Youth Leadership Forum delegates pose for photo with Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama Governor’s Youth Leadership Forum returned to Troy University last week with delegates learning to advocate for themselves, plan for their futures and meet new friends.

The five-day event, sponsored by the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, serves high school students with disabilities, equipping them with valuable leadership skills through sessions on self-esteem, career exploration, technology, independent living, among other topics. Faculty from the College of Education assisted with the camp.

In addition to providing valuable information and resources for students, the event also featured a variety of fun activities including a trip to a Montgomery Biscuits game, a visit to the Alabama Statehouse, a tour of the Alabama Capitol and an opportunity to meet and have their picture made with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

ADRS State Transition Coordinator Tasha Betts said the forum helps to instill confidence among participants so that they are able to speak up about their disabilities and their needs.

“Many times, as teenagers and youth, they already have some kinds of barriers where they are not always comfortable speaking up for themselves or expressing their needs, their wants and their desires,” she said. “When you have a disability, sometimes that is even a little bit harder. We are working with them on being their self-advocate, speaking up and telling what their needs are, and learning how to request accommodations if that is what they need.”

While the delegates are provided with information during sessions, time with peers is also a valuable part of the experience, Betts said.

“Their peers are talking to them about real life situations where they have had to learn how to wash their own clothes, manage a budget, or possibly what to do when you have a flat tire. I think when our youth hear it from their peers it means so much more than adults just telling them what they need to do,” she said.

For the delegates, the opportunity to spend time on the Troy Campus was a valuable experience.

“My favorite thing at YFL has been meeting new people and getting used to the college life,” said Dylan Payn. “I enjoyed hanging out and meeting new friends.”

Payn believes lessons learned at YLF will help him be more vocal and a better leader.

“I learned from YFL to start advocating for myself, learning to speak up about needs and actions for me and other people,” he said. “I think I will be a great leader. I try to set an example for others, so I think that is very good, but I also think I can be more of a vocal leader too. This is helping me to become a vocal leader.”

Jataelar Samples agreed that the YLF experience has better equipped her for the future.

“I have learned how to advocate for myself and to speak up about my disability,” she said. “I enjoyed going to the baseball game and also meeting new people who have disabilities similar to mine. YLF has helped me learn what it will be like to live the college life and do things on my own, independently. I want to be a leader for Black autistics in my community, so that they will know that there are others who have the same disability.”