Leadership is a very interesting term. We all kind of have an idea about what it is, but leadership is a word that could have lots of meanings to different people.
The dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or organization.
OK, that sounds really wordy. At the end of the day, I believe that leadership is about helping others, and that is what the Ohio Youth Leadership Forum is all about.
The Ohio Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) is a very prestigious event for Ohioans with disabilities. It is a seminar where young people with all different kinds of disabilities come together to learn about advocacy and independence.
One of the staff members at my high school showed my mom information about YLF and I decided to apply for it. The seminar chair, Donna Foster, drove three hours from Columbus to Wellsville High School so that she could interview me to see if I would be a good candidate. We had an amazing talk and she later called my mom to tell her that I was selected to attend the forum for the first time.
At the time, there was very little information as to what YLF would be like. I had envisioned that this event would be very rigid and businesslike. My assumptions could not be further from the truth. When I walked through the hotel doors at the Embassy Suites in Columbus, I was swarmed by cheerful, helpful people with disabilities that were just like me. They all wanted to help.
We did a lot of fun activities on the first day and I got to meet many new friends. We listened to our first speaker of the week and then we watched a movie. I soon realized that everyone I met was different. Everyone had different disabilities, different personalities and different abilities. This fun seminar made me coin the phrase that people with disabilities are ‘differently-abled’ because we all get the job done, just in a different way.
My week of learning about disability advocacy in Columbus was incredible. We went to the Ohio Statehouse, learned about assistive technology and attended a job fair. At the job fair, I was able to meet now retired Columbus Blue Jackets broadcaster Bill Davidge. All of the experiences were great and I learned something from each one of them.
I got to build several relationships with my fellow YLF delegates. One of those delegates was my great friend Aubrey Weaver. Aubrey has cerebral palsy just like I do. She was very shy at first and she seemed like she needed a friend. We talked for a while and she started to come out of her shell and make friends with other delegates. Aubrey is a lot of fun and she works very hard at school, just like me. I hope that she is doing well and enjoying life as a student at Wright State University.
I also made another great friend, Chris Maloy. Chris is a very friendly guy and we both have an interest in media. He is supremely talented at making YouTube videos. I know that Chris is going to have a bright future and hopefully we can reconnect down the road in the media industry.
I know that I specifically mentioned those two people, but every person at YLF has had a huge impact on me. After my first year as a member of the YLF family, I couldn’t get enough. I decided to come back to volunteer as a staff member the following year.
YLF has left an impact on me because it made me realize how lucky I am. YLF made me want to give back to people with disabilities because I have a desire to help people succeed and move forward. I loved getting a chance to generate conversations and lead a small group of delegates as a staff member. I hope that I left an impact on them in a positive way. The past couple of years have been really busy, so I was not able to go back and volunteer on staff.
However, when Donna Foster saw that I started this column, she messaged me to ask me if I would like to come back as a keynote speaker for the event. I accepted her offer with no hesitation. I worked really hard as I wrote and practiced my speech. I wanted my speech to be perfect.
When I walked through the hotel doors for the third time, I wasn’t nervous because I met up with some of the amazing people that I met years before. I was greeted with several smiles and hugs from everyone on staff. It honestly felt like I had never left.
In my speech I reflected on many of the wonderful experiences that I had there. The Ohio Youth Leadership Forum finished up this past Thursday, and I hope that everyone had the time of their lives.
I know that I did, and I want to come back whenever I can in the future.
Click the link below to watch my speech on YouTube. It’s only about 20 minutes long, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!
Michael Reiner is a columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.