Every quarter, YLF alumni will be showcased. Profiles from previous quarters will remain as new ones surface, giving visitors an idea of the impact this program has had on its participants.
Legitimacy is often linked to tradition.
The effectiveness of a program or initiative can be easily determined by looking back. What you see will be a good indication of what lies ahead.
More than 80% of the adult volunteers that participate in the Florida Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) were former delegates. They make the conscious decision to come back summer after summer for one reason.
Because they believe in the program.
Anthony La Cava was a junior in high school when he was selected to attend YLF back in 2001, the second year of the program.
He's been back every summer since.
"Honestly, it's been 15 years so I don't remember much except that I was really nervous, but excited," Anthony said when asked to describe what it felt like to be a delegate. "I do remember leaving YLF with a new sense of purpose."
After graduating from high school and earning an associate's degree, Anthony entered the information technology field. His talents took him to Boston, Atlanta, and Jacksonville, honing his skills at every stop along the way. Overcoming the challenges brought on by his ADHD, Anthony is a model of success and perseverance. He is currently a managing engineer at Blue Wave Computing in Atlanta, and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in information technology from Florida State College in Jacksonville. Anthony attributes a great deal of his success to a summer way back when at YLF.
"YLF has taught me to advocate for myself when I need an accommodation," he said. "I have a voice now that I once didn't know I had. The program does the same for all the students that come through. I wanted to continue to be a part of that."
For nearly a decade, Anthony has served as program manager, assisting the YLF Director with facilities, transportation, and event issues. Anthony is also in charge of the "Reflections" presentation held at the end of each YLF; an unforgettable slideshow chronicling the four days, much to the glee of students and volunteer staff alike. Anthony especially loves posting pictures of unwary, weary participants who fall asleep at various times during YLF. But it's all in fun. Anthony also serves as the President of the YLF Alumni Association, maintaining the group Facebook page and posting each year's photos on his personal page for delegates to access.
In addition to serving as Program Manager, Anthony coordinates photography and IT for YLF.
It's easy to see that Anthony puts his heart into all that he does when it comes to YLF, so it's no surprise what his goal is after earning his degree.
"I see myself working in IT or working on helping people with disabilities. YLF was such an awesome experience for me. I just want to say to any student contemplating coming to YLF, You are going to have a blast! You are going to meet some great people and make lots of friends, and you are going to learn a lot of great information too."
A bubbly personality and beautiful smile are two of the attributes that stand out most when YLF staff members and delegates are asked to describe Lacesha Owens. The soft-spoken 2012 alum from Punta Gorda has served as a staff member for three years, and has served as a group facilitator for two. Though she is now seen as a leader amongst her peers and students that comprise her small groups, Lacesha remembers when she was in their shoes not so long ago.
"When I was a delegate, I was nervous and shy," she said. "But I was excited at the same time because YLF was a new experience for me. It helped me come out of my shell and meet new people from all over the state."
A graduate of Charlotte County High school, Lacesha is now attending Florida Southwestern State College in Naples. Keiser University or the University of South Florida are the likely targets as she seeks to further her education in Finance. In addition to her studies, Lacesha works at Goodwill Industries in Punta Gorda. Utilizing her knack for fashion and design, Lacesha works as a processor at the store, sorting, organizing, and arranging the clothes that come in. Balancing both work and school as she pursues her dreams of becoming independent is not an easy task, Lacesha admits. Most young adults would rather spend the summers relaxing.
But Lacesha isn't most young adults.
She realizes the impact that YLF had on her life several years ago, and has made it a personal priority to pour into the lives of teenagers traveling the same road that she once did.
"I try to encourage each group of delegates to always have faith in themselves and stay positive," Lacesha said. "If you remain positive, good things will happen in your life."
Lacesha's amicable demeanor and encouraging leadership style have made her an effective group facilitator and role model for students and staff.
Lacesha's positive attitude has made her very popular among YLF staff and students. Having already overcome so many obstacles in her own life, she now strives to motivate others to follow their dreams and never give up.
"YLF has been an adventure and awesome experience," she said. "Not only has it helped me build my self-confidence and given me the opportunity to meet people from all over the state, but I've also had the chance to be a leader to the high school students that come each year."
What makes a good leader?
Bravery? Confidence? Intelligence? The list goes on and on.
While there are many character traits that can be found in what are considered the most effective leaders, the thing that is often overlooked are the results of that leadership.
Leaders should be able to make other leaders.
By setting the proper example, an effective leader should inspire others to follow in their footsteps, making those around them better.
That is the kind of leader Joseph Murray is.
Joseph Murray is a 2008 alum of the Florida Youth Leadership Forum. Since that time, he has been invited to return as a staff volunteer, serving first as a support staff member, eventually becoming a coordinator of YLF travel and facilities, duties that he still performs. Joseph has also addressed delegates on the subject of disability history, and several other topics. He has been a remarkable role model and leader for first-time students participating in YLF.
After graduating from high school, Joseph attended Gulf-Stream Goodwill Life Academy, where he engaged in culinary and hospitality studies. The skills he learned helped him gain employment at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, where he has been employed for the past five years.
"I enjoy my job in the hospitality industry because I help others," Joseph said. "It's all about doing your best each day."
Joseph’s passion and dedication to the program, along with his humble, helpful attitude have made him a popular YLF adult volunteer among students and fellow staff members. In addition to his other YLF work, each year Joseph chaperones a dozen of participants as they fly from South Florida. A strong advocate for students with disabilities, Joseph continues to serve as an example of what hard work and commitment can accomplish.
Joseph is a vital member of the YLF Adult Staff team. His willingness to help other team members, like Mervin, has made the Florida Youth Leadership Forum one of the best in the country.
"YLF has taught me to be a strong leader; how to communicate with other people and have the confidence to make decisions," he said. "It also taught me the importance of offering services to others in need."