Two from Siskiyou participate in Youth Leadership Forum

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
Sara Rogers of Mount Shasta was one of 62 California high school students who participated in the Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities in July, 2010, in Sacramento.

Sara Rogers of Mount Shasta was one of 62 California high school students with disabilities who gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in late July to show leaders and lawmakers that they have what it takes to become the leaders of tomorrow.

The students then met with legislators and their staffs for personal discussions about issues that face the disability community.

The rally was part of the six-day Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities held each of the past 19 years in Sacramento.

Sara, who is about to start her junior year at Mount Shasta High School, was born with a hearing disability. She said hearing aids allow her to function well in most situations, but she does at times have trouble understanding what others are saying.

She said participants at the forum, including group leaders, had a wide range of disabilities, some physical, some mental.

“I learned a lot about my disability and other kinds of disabilities and learned a lot about leadership,” she said.

During the time they spent in small groups, Sara said the student delegates learned about the challenges they’ve each faced, and they grew close.

Another participant from Siskiyou County was Brandon Alexander of Happy Camp.

Forum delegates met with alumni from previous forums, participated in leadership development programs, attended demonstrations of the latest technology and assistive devices, interactively learned about each other’s disabilities and received presentations and advice from motivational speakers and mentors with disabilities.

During one activity, Sara said delegates “had to get across a maze and help kids in wheelchairs get around the maze... You had to learn what you have to do to help people with disabilities.”

This year’s forum from July 24 to 29 coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ground-breaking legislation that expanded civil rights protections to include people with disabilities.

The co-celebrations of YLF and ADA shared crowds and delivered similar messages of encouragement, equality and hope.

Each delegate was selected to attend the YLF based on their achievements and leadership qualities they have displayed in their communities. They were housed at California State University, Sacramento.

“These talented students are an example of how people can overcome the daily and lifelong challenges that can conspire to hold them back,” said Pam Harris, chief deputy director of the Employment Development Department, which is one of numerous state agencies involved in coordinating the annual YLF.

“Instead of being dissuaded by their circumstances, they choose to follow the roads of achievement and leadership to places like YLF. And we are all the better for it,” Harris said of the students involved in the forum.

Student delegates met with alumni of earlier forums to discuss their life experiences and future goals.

California created the YLF concept in 1991 and was the first state to hold a YLF conference, according to a press release. The forum, designed and programmed by a steering committee, prepares students with disabilities to reach their career goals, join the workforce, live independently and become involved in their communities.

The forum also provides students with an opportunity to learn from adults with disabilities who excel in their personal and professional lives.

To date, the YLF boasts more than 1,000 alumni.

“The forum’s impact on these youths with disabilities lasts more than just the week they are here in Sacramento. It stays with them a lifetime,” said Tony Sauer, director of the Department of Rehabilitation. “Many of the former delegates have become aides to legislators, doctors, disability advocates, lawyers, state employees, and business entrepreneurs...”

Teresa Favizzo, executive director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, said the co-celebration of ADA and YLF intensifies the experience for delegates. “In light of the 20th anniversary of the ADA, I am looking forward to the progress that this new generation of YLF leaders will advance.”