On July 27 I was able to go back to my roots as a disability advocate, but this time with a little bit of a different perspective. I journeyed to Virginia State University to present to the 2016 class of the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). It was nostalgic as I entered the room to do my presentation. I was thinking back to when I was a delegate at YLF back in 2007 and reflecting how far I’ve come as an individual and as a business owner. I was so excited to give back, even a little bit, to this year’s crop of delegates.
For this presentation I had the privilege of presenting alongside my good friend Alexis Nichols. I met Alexis in 2013 when she participated in YLF as a delegate. She has gone on to do some tremendous advocacy work around service animals and other areas in Virginia. We were asked to do a presentation on all aspects of professional development for the delegates. We spent many weeks leading up to the presentation refining and cementing our message so we could have maximum impact so the students could be better prepared to handle professional situations in the future.
The topics we addressed in our presentation included subjects from what is supposed to go on a resume, how to find job applications and fill them out, to how to dress in an interview and strategies for all different forms of communication including, email, written, proper phone and voicemail etiquette, and how to communicate effectively on social media.
We also touched on the importance of personal branding. We told the students that it is vital to make sure that you have both business cards and an appropriate sounding email address, because you never know when you might come across someone to network with. We also shared the importance of always dressing as if somebody’s watching because you never know if a first impression could lead to a positive or negative outcome for you.
There was phenomenal discussion from both staff and delegates which made the presentation that much more rewarding. I always love for my work to feel like collaboration rather than a solo act. The presentation was very well received. I was so grateful to have the students hopefully take away something that will help them in their professional careers.
It is such a special feeling for me to be able to be part of this experience. My YLF experience shaped my life and gave me a purpose. For me to be able to hopefully give that feeling back to someone else has truly made everything come full circle.
In addition to connecting with the delegates it was also great to reconnect with some of the staff members that I hadn’t seen for quite some time. I follow what most of them are doing and they continue to do remarkable things. I view each of them as a partner in this fight towards complete disability inclusion. Continue to strive to do amazing things and I will follow along on your journey with pride. It was so great to reconnect with you.
I had a phenomenal time providing this presentation and I hope that it is something that I will get to do again for future classes of the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum. Thank you for the privilege of being a part of this remarkable experience.
To the class of 2016 I challenge you to take what you learned over those four days and implement the skills back into your schools or your communities. Continue to advocate and push for better outcomes for yourselves and others. I cannot imagine what the future now holds for you, but I certainly look forward to all the amazing things ahead for you. I will be watching. Congratulations and good luck!
If you’d like to learn more about the Youth Leadership Forum please visit the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities website HERE. It is a life-changing program.
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