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Youth coalition inspires dedication, even into adulthood: Profile of a former YALC member

8/15/2015

YALC at July 2015 FCFC meeting
Photos: (above) YALC presenters at July 2015 FCFC meeting; (below right) Jerald, former youth member of the YALC
 

Jerald noticed something peculiar about the adults in the room. “They were just standing there,” he says. “In the background.”

He sat elbow to elbow with a group of engaged, talkative teens, at his first meeting of the Youth Advocacy and Leadership Coalition, also called the YALC. At 17, Jerald was a little older than most of the youth there, but experiencing “new guy” nervousness. He arrived at the meeting alone, drawn by the idea of clocking service credit hours during his final year at New Tech East High School. He expected to show up, be told what to do, and do it.  

“I thought it would be really an adult-led thing,” he says, “but then I saw the adults in the room weren’t leading anything. It was the young people. That’s when I realized it was a great leadership Jerald of the YALCopportunity.”

Occasionally, one of the adults would offer a suggestion or insight to the group of teens who were busy planning their ideas at the table in the middle of the room. Otherwise, they stayed out of the way.

That was two years ago. Now, Jerald is a college-going young adult, majoring in political science at Baldwin Wallace University.

But he has made another transformation as well. He is now one of the “adults in the room.” Even his relatively short time with the YALC was enough to change his perspectives on himself and his life trajectory. It inspired him to continue contributing to the program. Far from “just standing there,” Jerald now understood, the adult facilitators of the YALC offer a depth of guidance that helped him realize his leadership potential. Now, he stands alongside the youth of the YALC, ready to subtly coach and support their growth and development.

“Jerald is a perfect example of the empowering experience the Youth Advocacy and Leadership Coalition can have on a young person,” says Robin Stone, Extension Educator with the Ohio State University Extension of Cuyahoga County, and one of Jerald’s adult YALC advisors. “Initially, youth may join because they have heard they can earn service hours, or that we provide great social interaction activities. Once they get involved, our youth discover so much more about themselves. They quickly learn that everyone has a voice. They learn how to use their voice to make a difference for themselves and their peers.”

“I love the program and what it stands for, bringing youth together to be leaders, especially in the times we are living in and with what youth are experiencing,” Jerald says.

Jerald is not alone in his long-term dedication to the YALC. Twenty percent of previous YALC youth leaders donate time and energy to the YALC when they are home from college. And 95% of members stay committed to community service and advocacy beyond YALC and high-school graduation.

“It opened my eyes to show what the world had to offer”


As a youth participant, Jerald traveled outside of the state, on an airplane, for the first time in his life. At a national conference in Washington, D.C., he and another youth presented a workshop, “Distribution of Wealth and Power,” to bring awareness to issues of poverty and access to education.

It’s a topic he says he knows well, not just from news reports about the challenges facing African-American young adults. He lived in an impoverished area at one time, but attended a high school with an innovative approach to learning. Then he joined the YALC, which he says sparked a “wider view of the world.” As a firsthand witness to both the trials and opportunities within his Cleveland community, he chose his political science major as a way “to step up and do something.”  

During his year of service projects both close to and far from home, he started thinking of himself as a leader, and as a team player. Of his peers in the YALC, he says, “We’ve learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and what we bring to the table. We’ve learned to work together.”

It’s a skill that is already serving him well in college, and in his summer internship with Fox 8 Cleveland. There, he is gaining public relations expertise working with the guests and on-air personalities of a televised entertainment show.

His adult advisors note that when Jerald came to YALC, he had a basic knowledge of leadership and communication. Through the YALC, Jerald developed and practiced these skills within a supportive environment. Jerald facilitated drug prevention trainings for elementary through high-school students, led workshops at the national, state, and local levels, and made contacts with youth and adults that will continue to benefit his growth for years to come.

“In a year, I’ve done a lot more than I thought I’d be able to accomplish,” Jerald says.

He credits the YALC with improving his critical thinking and planning skills. But most profoundly, the YALC shifted his perspectives and exposed him to new ideas.

“I started thinking, ‘maybe I should do more of this and less of this.’ It builds you morally and ethically,” he says. “The program grew me into the person I am today.”

“We are so grateful to Jerald, and all of our YALC alumni, who continue to see the value in what they have learned through our program and choose to help the next generation of members take their next step forward,” says Stone.

Appropriately, the political-science student quotes Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to win a seat in the United States Congress, when he says: “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” His intention is to study hard, continue learning, and use his energy to help people through service.

For Jerald, the YALC was both a first step and a destination. “Everyone there,” he emphasizes, “is a better person and better leader when they leave the YALC.”


The YALC is a civic leadership program for youth ages 13 to 18 in Cuyahoga County. The YALC develops young adult leaders by training and supporting them in advocating for youth issues and links them to their communities through service learning experiences. It is operated by Ohio State University Extension (OSUE), and funded by the Family & Children First Council (FCFC) of Cuyahoga County. To get involved, please visit www.empower-youth.org, or call 216-429-8200, ext. 228.