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The Youth Leadership Initiative Helped Me Find My Way

YLI April

April 4, 2019

Moving from Captive to Creator

As a high school freshman, I was lost in every regard. I was floundering trying to find my path, trying to find my people and trying to find my passion. I knew I could do more. I knew I needed to do more, and I knew I wanted to do more. What I didn’t know was how to do it, what ‘it’ even was, or when I was going to do it. I had heard of a leadership program that meets during the school day and as someone who has always struggled to enjoy and succeed in school, that was a rather attractive selling point. Admittedly, probably the biggest reason I wanted to apply was for the chance to get out of the classroom for one day a month. I went out on a limb and applied for the program that would later change the trajectory of my entire life. That first step, that leap of faith, was the moment I moved from being a captive to myself, to being a creator of my happiness and my future success.

Optimistically Fearful

Going into the program year I was one of two people from my school to be a part of the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI). I was in a room with a bunch of strangers, who all seemed nice but equally as terrified. These strangers later became the fuel to my fire and the spark I needed to become my optimal self. Throughout the year we explored the Des Moines community through a variety of topics. These topics ranged from arts, business and entrepreneurship to community engagement. We were taught leadership the way it was meant to be learned, through thoughtful engagement, intentional reflection and by building meaningful relationships and mentorships.

The Collective ‘Ah-Ha’

I always imagined myself living in either Chicago, Illinois, Denver or Colorado. I convinced myself that these places had opportunities, that is where the entertainment is, that is where I can be happy. It wasn’t until I went through YLI that I realized I had all of that in my backyard, accessible at my fingertips. An experience such as the Des Moines Art Center, something that I didn’t know I had interest in, was a highlight of my entire year and something that I now enjoy visiting frequently. Meeting with business and community leaders allowed me to network and identify a career path that I could then capitalize on for internships and now, a career. The interconnected curriculum provided me with a well-rounded and thorough experience that allowed me to make an educated decision for furthering my post-secondary education. The identification of passion, for me, was the biggest ah-ha.

Share the YLI Experience

My challenge to you is to find the ‘Zach’ in your life. Find those who might be lost and have untapped potential. Encourage them to apply for this program with an open mind and an open heart. YLI has been an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership for the past seven years. Throughout those years, we have made great improvements and become an established leadership development program for high school students in Des Moines. This program provides a safe to fail environment to expand one’s comfort zone, to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and to be the change you want to see in the community.

Learn more about YLI and pass along the application at gdmli.com/yli. Applications close on April 22nd!

Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) introduces, develops and fosters leadership skills among high school sophomores and juniors in Greater Des Moines (DSM) through experiential mentoring and leadership opportunities. With the generous support of The Partnership, YLI has transitioned ownership to the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. This will allow us to continue supporting students throughout their leadership journey.

Zach Walker

Zach recently graduated from Grand View University having studied Business Administration, Management and Marketing. Having a strong passion for leadership and personal development, Zach enjoys working with students through the Youth Leadership Initiative. Zach has been active with YLI since 2013 and has served in a variety of roles on the executive council.