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These 5 Youth Leadership Initiative Principles Helped Build Up My Confidence

YLI Principals Build Confidence

July 6, 2018

I first learned about Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) near the end of my sophomore year at Indianola High School in Greater Des Moines (DSM) when my peer, Tyler Juffernbruch, told me about the program. He was a student finishing the program, who then became a mentor and part of the Alumni Engagement Committee. From the time he told me about YLI, I knew I wanted to apply. I wasn’t new to being involved in leadership activities, as I’d been involved in student council and gone to various leadership camps throughout the years, but I knew that something about a year-long program could be the start of something great for me. After five years in student council, that May I found out that I hadn’t been voted back on, and I was crushed. I had already applied for YLI and hoped I could still make a difference.

The acceptance

YLI Acceptance DSMOn May 26 of last year, I received a letter saying I’d been accepted into the YLI Class of 2018, along with two others from my school, Aby Mouzakis and Jax Mahlstadt. I was ecstatic, but it was more than just joining a leadership program. Being a part of YLI helped me to gain back the confidence in myself that I’d lost when I didn’t make student council. It made me realize that being a leader is about more than planning assemblies and homecoming themes — something I was about to learn in the program.

Shortly after receiving the acceptance letter, we had orientation for the program in early June. I was extremely nervous to meet the people I’d be spending two days a month with for the rest of the year, but I was glad to have some familiar faces with me from Indianola. It was evident to the three of us that YLI wasn’t just another leadership conference or camp. We were about to embark on a crazy year-long journey with 36 other students from around DSM and I couldn’t wait.

The experience

YLI Experience DSMFrom the moment I stepped into The Partnership building for orientation, I was surrounded by unwavering positivity and encouragement by my mentors and fellow students. Everyone was there because they wanted to improve themselves, and the atmosphere was unbeatable. The opening retreat at Camp Hantesa was a great way to break the ice and help everyone get to know each other. I was blown away with the amount of awesome people from other schools that I got close to in such a short time. The retreat was an amazing opportunity for everyone to take a leap into their journeys to becoming better leaders, expand their comfort zones and make friends that’ll last a lifetime.

Throughout the monthly experience days and follow up sessions, I got the chance to get close to some of the most amazing people I’ve met. I felt so lucky to be surrounded by people that wanted the best for me, encouraged me to be a leader and make a difference in my school. This group made those 7 a.m. Friday mornings something to look forward to. In addition to the friendships I made, it was amazing seeing the rest of my peers in the program, most of whom I got to build a relationship with, make their own connections with people.

Through the various sessions throughout the program year, I got to experience DSM as I never had before. From visiting places such as Courage League Sports, a Sikh Temple, the Des Moines Capitol Building and so much more with YLI, I fell in love with the region seeing it in a light I never had before. Learning about this city and the opportunities that come with it is something that never would’ve happened for me without the program.

Through the five principles of leadership the program centers around, I have grown as a leader and what it means to truly be one.

Model the way

YLI taught me that sometimes a leader has to create their own standards of excellence setting goals and working with others to achieve a bigger picture.

Inspire a shared vision

YLI taught me that I can make a difference to anything I’m passionate about. Envisioning the future is something I’ve struggled with but by enlisting others in your dreams you can achieve great things. 

Challenge the process

YLI taught me to search for opportunities to change the status quo. Always search for ways to improve things and never be satisfied.

Encourage the heart

Out of all the sports and groups I’ve been involved in, YLI has been the best team I’ve been a part of. Recognizing and encouraging each small accomplishment made by a teammates is what takes your group above and beyond.

Enable others to act

I’ve learned that leaders need to understand mutual respect and positive regard in order to create an atmosphere of trust and success. YLI taught me that a leader needs to know when to ask for help and work with others to make a difference.

YLI Impact DSM

At the graduation ceremony for the YLI Class of 2018, I was honored to receive the Outstanding Youth Award. I was at a total loss for words when my name was announced, feeling incredibly grateful that my mentors chose me out of all the other outstanding students in the program. As I was surrounded by 36 of the best student leaders in the state of Iowa, I realized that leadership is more than a label or that student council spot I thought I couldn’t live without. True leadership is about taking action, not a position that’s held. You’re never done learning because it’s a process, not a program. This program, however, is something extraordinary.

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.

Jenna Lee-Johnson

Jenna Lee-Johnson is the daughter of Cindy Johnson and Deb Lee-Johnson. She recently graduated from the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) Class of 2018 in May and will be a senior at Indianola High School this fall. Her favorite things about YLI are the friendships she made and the experience days. She looks forward to being a mentor for the upcoming YLI class and hopes they enjoy it as much as she did.