This past week, I found myself becoming director of an organization I have been involved in for years now. The Youth Leadership Forum became active in 2000, and I attended this forum/ summer camp as a high school student. At first, I was overwhelmed and largely uncomfortable with the realization that I was attending a leadership training experience when I didn’t see myself as a leader at all. I couldn’t believe this was me— thinking I could become a leader in my community despite the fact that I had a disability.
But as I attended the forum and met other teenagers with various differing abilities, I realized that my disability was actually more of an asset than anything. I was able to communicate with my peers on a completely different level than what existed at my high school, and for the first time, I truly felt included and like I had some value in society. I sang at the talent show at the end of the week, and a year later, I was back as a volunteer staff member to help bring leadership training to another group of high school students with disabilities.
Up until 2010, I attended the forum as a staff member and speaker, taking part in mentoring and sharing my life with a new group of teenagers each year. But in 2010, everything began to change. The YLF director was going in a different direction, and I was asked to step in as Team Leader— basically assistant director of the camp. It was an overwhelming realization that I had advanced to the top of the leadership scale. I barely got comfortable in that position before the YLF director reminded me that I was in line to direct the program in the event of his retirement.
Halfway through our week’s activities during YLF 2012, the director approached me and announced he was going home. He said that I had things under control and that it would be all right in his absence. A twinge of fear gripped me as he walked out that door, but I knew God would be with me in the last days of the forum. My prayer for guidance and protection was barely uttered before all crazy broke loose.
Twenty minutes after Joe’s departure, a security alarm went off in the main conference room entry, and I had to call security to take care of it— of course with zero cell phone reception. Not long after that ordeal, I was notified that one of our staff members had become ill, and I had to find the nurse. Not more than two hours after that, a speaker showed up unannounced, and college staff had to notify me of his arrival. So at 4:00 p.m., this newly appointed camp director gathered the campers who had been sent to free time to attend this unexpected session. Through it all, I was frazzled but kept my cool, not only because I knew God was with me but because I had an incredible team of staff surrounding me.
Over the course of the rest of the week, I had my moments where I broke down during staff meetings or behind closed doors with staff. I was overwhelmed, over-tired, and not sure if I was cut out for being director; I felt so inadequate. But again, the YLF staff rallied around me and made every moment so rewarding. Nicole from the college events office kept everything running smoothly, and the facilitators and counselors from our team kept me from sinking under the weight of my newly appointed tasks. The peer mentors kept me laughing and made the mood so much lighter. And when there was a moment when I didn’t know where to turn or who should take responsibility, I was able to step forward or delegate tasks. I found with each passing day that we were working better together as a team, and it was becoming less and less about me being the director and more and more about the YLF staff and Edgewood Staff becoming a unified team that could best serve the campers/ delegates.
So here’s to you, Team: Nicole and her staff, especially Dusty and those in the cafeteria who now proudly wear our t-shirts; the facilitators: Abe, Rachel, and Greg; counselors: Kyle, Olivia, and Elise; and peer mentors: Joni, Ashley, Emma, Sydney, Robbie, and Jason. I am so grateful for all of you! Thank you for making YLF 2012 all it could be.