Local students attend youth leadership conference
Published 9:15 am Saturday, November 18, 2023
The 2023 Alfa Youth Leadership Conference helped 87 high school freshmen and sophomores from across Alabama develop crucial life and ag advocacy skills at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana Nov. 13-14.
The two-day conference was hosted by the Alabama Farmers Federation and began with students networking with other young people from around the state. Later, character development sessions were hosted by professional speakers Noah Galloway and Rhett Laubach.
Galloway, a veteran, double amputee and Purple Heart Recipient, shared his story of tragedy to triumph. Using his mantra “no excuses,” the Birmingham native taught students the importance of never giving up while always finding a way to make their lives and others’ better. His parting message to the group was, “Don’t be average. Be exceptional.”
“One thing [Noah] showed me is no matter if I have thoughts going through my mind like ‘You can’t do this,’ I actually can do it,” said Addy Kirkland, a sophomore at Rehobeth High School in Houston County. “’Don’t ever give up on yourself,’ is what I took away from it.”
Laubach continued the effort by teaching students to develop leadership characteristics through high-energy and high-impact workshops. Laubach, a professional trainer and presentations coach, guided students to understand their strengths and acknowledge and overcome their weaknesses to be effective leaders.
Lincoln County High School sophomore Cristen Haynes said the speakers were intriguing and pushed them outside their known limits to use skills they didn’t know they had.
“Through engaging us, it was easier for us to develop and demonstrate the qualities we were learning,” the Talladega County native said. “Breaking us into groups and interacting with students across the state made us uncomfortable, but it was a good opportunity to build our way out and use those skills. It was the most inspirational and motivating conference I’ve attended.”
Students also enjoyed outdoor activities and team-building exercises with 4-H staff, heard from a panel of young farmers about future careers and opportunities in ag, and learned the importance of leadership in ag advocacy from Federation Young Farmers Division Director Hunter McBrayer.
“Our future lies with our young people,” McBrayer said. “We want to develop future leaders who know how to interact with others, work for the common good and promote a better society for not only agriculture but everything. This conference gives us the opportunity to educate and develop exceptional students who can shape their communities, state and country.”
The highlight of the conference included a session where students practiced the skill of service and assembled wooden toys to send to patients at Children’s of Alabama Hospital this holiday season.
Bullock County sophomore Rose Ryan-Ulver said leading included giving back to others, and this project was a fun way to help those who are less fortunate.
“As a leader you have to serve others,” said Ryan-Ulver. “You can help people, even out of your circle, if you take the time to appreciate the smaller things and give them something to look forward to.”
The Alfa Youth Leadership Conference is sponsored by Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit.