Hear from Dakota Jackson, a new addition to our Fundraising & Marketing team here at Youth Opportunities, reflect on her first time attending a Personal Leadership Program graduation at Woodville High School.
“At Youth Opportunities, we work hard to reach more than 2,000 young people every single year. That’s a huge number. Over 2,000 young people every year that are now able to formulate and take steps toward goals and take control of their lives. Over 2,000 young people every year that are increasingly more confident in their own skills. Over 2,000 young people every year that are viewing their future as something they can choose to improve. If Youth Opportunities’ reach stopped at just those 2,000+ young people each year, that would be enough for me!
Delightfully, it doesn’t stop there. Youth Opportunities’ programs influence so many more lives than just those of the young people.
Recently I attended my first ever Youth Opportunities Personal Leadership Program Graduation. As a relatively new staff member, I was apprised by numerous people, including our wonderful CE, Erin, that graduations are particularly moving events. In fact, I was even told that NO ONE has ever attended a graduation and not let out a tear or two. However, despite these ceaseless warnings and some extraordinarily high expectations, I still wasn’t fully prepared for the Youth Opportunities Graduation experience.
The vivacity and confidence radiating from this particular cohort was evident from the moment I walked into the graduation room. I witnessed at least 10 instances of the students sending stars (positive and uplifting communications) to each other, their trainers, and me within the first 45 minutes since my arrival. Compliments on each other’s chosen graduation outfits, direction tips while practising their speeches, and general kindness and willingness to help were just a few of the many stars floating around while we were setting up.
Another stand-out aspect for me was the fantastic relationship our trainers had built with each and every young person. With all the genuineness I can express through writing, it was so refreshing to see positive interactions across generations. The support the trainers gave was positive, affirming, but still placed the responsibility on the young person to achieve whatever task they were completing at the time. The admiration the students held for their trainers was oh-so-obvious.
Eventually, I got to witness the event I had come for. Youth Opportunities Graduations are youth-led, and each student has the opportunity to stand up in front of their friends, family, YO staff and donors to share their story; why they joined the program, the tools and skills they’ve learnt, as well as how their outlook on life has changed.
We heard the stories of graduates who struggled with motivation who now had clear goals for their future, and the tools they needed to help them get there. Teenagers with less-than-ideal family relationships who had utilised communication tools to discuss an issue they wanted to resolve, improving trust and removing communication barriers. There were tears on-stage and off as personal stories and milestones were shared.
Nearing the end of the ceremony, each graduate gave stars to their important people in the audience – parents, siblings, donors… even I got a star! Given the opportunity to share the words they received, many of the star recipients stood up and spoke of the changes they’d seen in their children or siblings.
This point of the day was when I really started to gauge the true impact of Youth Opportunities’ Personal Leadership Program. From a program of just 18 students, I was now sitting in an audience at least twice that size of close family members whose lives had also been improved, in various ways, by Youth Opportunities.
The brother of one of the graduates spoke about how their sibling relationship had improved as the graduate become more thoughtful and agreeable, and reported they were able to share more quality time together now. Numerous parents mentioned the improved communication and positivity in their child at home, which had radiated throughout the household. One mum explained how seeing her teenager’s motivation improve through participating in YO assisted her in the realisation that she’d actually raised a really great young adult, lifting her own self-worth as a parent.
That same positivity bounced from graduate, to parent, to donor, and back, as each person stood up one by one to send stars to one another. I already knew we helped young people – it’s in our name – but all of a sudden, it was easy to see the effect each graduate had in their own homes. And if this much benefit was so clearly visible at their graduation, I can only imagine the reverberations these phenomenal kids have in their friendships, school, workplaces, sporting clubs and the world.
That’s what moved me to tears. Youth Opportunities holds young people at the heart of everything we do, and those young people are not letting us down. Their impact, through their own positive change, is already spreading far wider than I ever could have imagined.”