An unexpected discovery: A participant’s perspective on the 2018 Youth Leadership Academy

2018 Youth Leadership Academy from a Participant’s Perspective

By: Josh Riley


Empower Tennessee hosted the 2018 Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) on June 27 and 28 in collaboration with the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. This year’s YLA theme was, “I AM Who I AM (and that’s pretty cool)”. Peer Facilitators lead workshops and activities, which provided a unique and exciting opportunity for youth with disabilities to further develop the skills needed to make the most out of the wide range of services and resources available to support their transition to adulthood. The goal for the two-day event was to teach self-advocacy to transition-aged youth to prepare them for post-secondary training, education, employment, and living more independently, with a grander vision of building a core of youth advocates to teach these skills to their peers. Ten diverse participants ranging in age 14-24 and from various cities across the state completed the training. All graduates reported gaining a better understanding of the importance of speaking up for oneself, knowing more about the kinds of skills needed to be a more independent adult, and having more pride in their disabilities and value as a human being. Joshua Riley, one of the 2018 YLA participants, was empowered to utilize his writing skills and openly share his experience with us. You may read Josh’s perspective below.


“The Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) was a unique experience.  First, I must confess that the skills taught were not new to me.  I had heard the same things said before, not to say it wasn’t helpful to hear them again.  What I mainly gained from the training was more personal. Throughout the two days of YLA, I asked myself, “Do I actually use these skills?” and, “If not, when will I start using them?” I found it difficult to ask myself these questions because I knew I already had the answers; but, they were being engrained in me again at the Youth Leadership Academy. 


The Author- Josh Riley

What a great opportunity it was to be given two days to immerse myself with others who may have been learning self-advocacy skills for the first time.  I realized that I could be a leader, and I could follow my fellow peer’s’ examples and utilize the self-advocacy and independent living skills that I had been taught before and that others were learning for the first time.  A good leader knows when to follow, right?

I came to understand that I had been given numerous opportunities to learn skills from conferences, counseling, and mentorship just like at the Youth Leadership Academy.  For my peers at YLA, it could have been their first opportunity to learn how to advocate and how to live independently.  The Youth Leadership Academy was one of the most influential experiences in that I learned things I did not expect to learn about others and myself.  It was great to be a part of the event.”

Discovery happens all the time, doesn’t it??? We all just need the right forum to discover our own talents.