National Leadership Conference ignites inner sparks as summer 2024 begins

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Nearly 200 high schoolers descended on Miniwanca this month for the National Leadership Conference, a week of leadership development through community, discussion, and play.

“I look forward to this week every year,” said NLC co-director Erin O’Brien. “We love seeing our community return to the dunes and experience powerful growth and development in such a short time.”

NLC is the American Youth Foundation’s longest-running program. It has evolved through the decades to meet the changing needs of youth today. This four-year progressive leadership development program encourages teens and young adults to discover their own values and to use their voice to advocate for themselves and others in their communities.

There was no graduating fourth-year class this year (NLC was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic), but Miniwanca welcomed nearly 100 new participants who joined the first-year class.

One highlight of each summer is when the first-year class reveals its banner and songs to the NLC community. The class creates its banner after several days of careful discussion and reflection. This year, the first-year class, Charged with Purpose, unveiled their unique, lightning bolt-shaped banner during an evening fire circle.

“I feel like I’ve grown a lot in my leadership skills, through the workshops and good discussions,” said one first-year participant. “I’ve identified what type of leader I am, and steps I can further take to grow in confidence as a leader.”

NLC co-director Michael Harter said NLC empowers young people by providing them the leadership skills and tools they need to create positive change in their home communities.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Harter said. “We want the transformative power of this conference to extend far beyond the boundaries of Miniwanca. These teens leave here inspired and confident that their voice not only matters, but that it is also so important and necessary in the world.”

One member of the third-year class summed conference up best: “I was never able to see myself the way others did. NLC helped me see my spark.”