NLC returns to Miniwanca with powerful program

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The National Leadership Conference roared back to life this summer after two years of virtual and abbreviated gatherings.

NLC Co-Director Erin O’Brien said it was emotional to reconnect with youth and volunteer staff after so much time apart.

“I got choked up several times with happiness over the simple fact that it was happening,” she said. “I am proud we were able to give the participants and staff a full conference after everything we have all been through over the last few years. I think we all needed the connections, the positive interactions, and the hope that NLC provides for so many.”

NLC 2022 saw nearly 100 first-year participants take their first steps on the dunes, as well as the welcome return of 40 third- and fourth-year participants. There was no second-year class since the program was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

For eight days, the NLC participants gathered in community and as classes, creating and strengthening bonds that will last a lifetime. The week was filled with powerful discussion, emotional reunions, and moments of levity as everyone had fun along the way.

Fellow Co-Director Beth Wilson said it was particularly powerful to watch the fourth-year class, Connected in Compassion, graduate.

“One of my favorite mission moments is when each fourth-year graduating participant said something about how NLC has changed their lives,” Wilson said. “This class literally had to wait six years to graduate and still almost 20 of them returned.”

It was also exciting to welcome the first-year participants, many of whom are the children of current and former NLC staff members. “This class will graduate in the 100th year of the AYF,” O’Brien said. “The chose the name Focus Forward Lasting Legacy – fitting for the centennial class of the AYF’s first program.”

The magic of NLC wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated NLC staff, a team of 75 volunteers from across the country who give their time and skills to host this life-changing program.

“This program wouldn’t exist without the volunteer staff. They work so hard, they show up for the participants, and each volunteer brings their own gifts to our program,” O’Brien said. “It is such a vibrant, loving, positive community filled with the most inspiring people.”

Wilson recalled the instant connection between staff and participants. “We were all there for the same reason, and after a few days when the participants got an idea what camp was like, it was a feeling I’ve never experienced before,” she said. “To see what we had worked so hard for over the past year come together and see these young adults not only have fun, but also learn about themselves and others was magical to me.”