Youth Leadership Forum under way at TSU

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2003

The 2003 Alabama Governor's Youth Leadership Forum is under way at Troy State University.

The forum began on Sunday and will run until Thursday afternoon.

This is the fifth annual YLF, which is sponsored by the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, TSU and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

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YLF is designed to help high school students with disabilities become leaders in their community.

It also helps them learn about new technology in their area of disability, career opportunities and how to become self-reliant.

Angeline Pinckard, executive director of the Alabama Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities said over 30 delegates will be in attendance.

Pinckard said the forum can be life changing and that many delegates come back the next year to be counselors.

"We can see a change in the delegates," Pinckard said.

"At first they're shy; this could be their first time away from home.

But after they've made the decision to be more independent for themselves, they feel more comfortable."

Damion Black, from Auburn, attended the forum after his junior year in high school.

Now he's 20 and back as a counselor.

"I thought there was only a small handful of us (disabled people) in Alabama," he said.

"But when I came, I learned that there is a large number all around the world."

Brandy Nelson, from Elkmont, is also back as a counselor this year.

Nelson said she learned about the laws protecting the rights of disabled people.

She also said the forum was a comfortable place to be.

"Everybody can relate with everybody because we've all been there before," she said.

During the forum, students will listen to speakers with disabilities who have found success doing what they want to do.

"When I was born, I didn't realize I had a disability, but I was born with hopes and dreams," said Ryan Easterly from Hartselle.

"Just because I have a disability, those dreams and goals don't change."

Jared Giddens, from Cullman, is in his fourth year as being a counselor at YLF.

He said the speakers help the students realize they can do whatever they want.

One year, a blind climber who had climbed Mt. Everest spoke.

Another year it was a legless volleyball player.

A blind color announcer for football and an engineer with dyslexia have also spoken.

"It proves that you can do it if you really want to do it," Giddens said.

"Their disability might not be the same, but you can take something that they've done and apply it to yourself."

Jeremy Sanders of Montgomery agreed.

"It's inspiring to see how, that despite their disabilities, they are still doing well," Sanders said.

Giddens said there is no way of knowing what to expect at each forum because every year brings different delegates and different speakers.

The format, however, is basically the same.

During the week, delegates-who are nominated by teachers and counselors to attend-will attend workshops and listen to speakers.

They will also learn about different careers, schools and scholarships.

The most important lesson learned, however, is that of confidence.

Nelson said she was uncomfortable talking about her severe hearing loss in front of large groups, but she recently spoke at the University of North Alabama during Disability Day.

"There is nothing wrong with being the way that I am," Nelson said.

"It only makes a person stronger."