Youth Leadership Greater Washington: Hope, initiative and leadership for the now
May 25, 2020
The Youth Leadership Greater Washington (YLGW) program provides a structured, supportive space for emerging youth leaders in our region to grow, collaborate and engage. We help high-potential youth from every demographic in our region prepare for success throughout life. The Class of 2020 is perhaps our most unique because their path forward looks so dramatically different. This program year thirty-six 10th & 11th graders from around our region gained leadership awareness, training, and exposure to community challenges and solutions.
Young people today are facing difficult odds – the most overused word describing what they are up against is ‘uncertainty’ – but of this, we can be sure: YLGW leaders stand better prepared to create the path forward.
They are authentic, daring, entrepreneurial, innovative, and imaginative - and through YLGW - they are united. Their examples light the way, they remind LGW leaders of who we really are. It is our job to propel them. So, let’s hear a few of their stories as they carry forward lessons from the program and carry out amazing positive action in our community:
Ria and Rohin Garg
You mentioned that you have partnered to form a national nonprofit called, “Teens Helping Seniors.” How did this initiative come about? Could you describe what a typical day is like while carrying out your mission?
We noticed around our community that seniors were hesitant to get groceries amid this pandemic. We talked to a couple of friends who said they were getting groceries for their grandparents because they were afraid to go outside. Alongside our friends, we started to reach out to others in our community who could volunteer or who needed service. A typical day is fielding requests by email.
We receive emails from seniors looking for help, which we forward to our regional coordinators to make the delivery. In addition to being regional coordinators, we are national coordinators for Teens Helping Seniors. With this role, we manage chapters of Teens Helping Seniors that have been started in various other states. Our organization was recently featured in the news.
What stood out to you the most from your program experience that is helping you lead others to action today?
An overarching theme that we learned from our experiences in the program is if you want to see change, be the change. We were aware that many senior citizens and immunocompromised people were at high risk for contracting COVID-19, so they may be very hesitant to get their necessities. We saw that something needed to be done, and our experience at YLGW really led us to taking a leap into starting Teens Helping Seniors. YLGW encouraged us to take action for things we believe in.
What is on the horizon for you now? What is next for “Teens Helping Seniors?”
Since we have experienced tremendous success for Teens Helping Seniors locally, we have focused on expanding to other states and countries. So far, we have chapters that have started in 6 other states and in Montreal, Canada as well. Teens across the nation have reached out to us about starting their own chapter in their local communities after being inspired by our organization. Our experience in YLGW has helped us because it inspired us to act on the issues. We were inspired by our classmates and guest speakers because they demonstrated how they took action. Our guest speakers all told us to “seize the moment” and we really took that to heart.
Can you tell us about the great initiative you started to help community members in need?
In March, my classmates and I formed Fairfax County COVID Aid to connect volunteers in the community to those in need of services such as grocery shopping and online tutoring during this time. Additionally, I am working as the Co-Director of Python (a coding language) and as an Outreach Coordinator for DMVHacks, another student-run organization, that is working to provide free coding lessons with the goal of promoting learning and discovery for all ages.
What stood out to you the most from your program experience that is helping you lead others to action today?
I believe that it is crucial that we look for creative ways to address the multitude of problems that are currently arising. Through YLGW, I learned that leaders need to be constantly adapting, and thinking outside the box. It is up to us to use our platforms and resources to the best of our abilities in order to help as many people as possible during tough times, especially those who are less fortunate. During my time with YLGW, I’ve learned that we need to listen to truly understand how to best serve our communities.
What is on the horizon for you now? What is shaping your interests and focus as you look ahead to your future?
I am looking forward to continuing my work as an intern with the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington and working as an Ambassador for She Rocks the World, a non-profit organization aimed at inspiring girls to use their voices fearlessly. Moving forward, I wish to seek out other opportunities to amplify youth voices. I am so grateful for YLGW for providing the opportunity to meet and network with so many amazing and inspiring youth in the area. In learning more about my peers and the issues that inspire them, I was able to better understand what drives me forward as well.
I aspire to promote change on issues such as gun violence, women’s rights, and mental health. My passion for these issues is shaped by my personal experiences and my ambition to play a small part in making the world a safer, more inclusive place for everyone.
You shared the great news that you recently ran for the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization Inc. (BBYO) DC Council Board seat and were elected as Vice Chair. Did your YLGW experience make you feel more prepared to step up into a bigger leadership role? Can you tell us what inspired you the most from your experience in the Class and how the guest speakers helped advance your leadership?
As I got ready to give my speech over Zoom for the election of D.C. Council BBYO’s 72nd S’ganit (Vice President), I thought back to my YLGW classes. Although my time with this incredible group and mentors was unfortunately cut short by Covid-19, I learned skills and lessons that I know will stick with me forever. I knew that I was qualified, prepared, and ready to run for, and take on, the position of my Council’s Vice President, but I was still nervous until I thought about a theme that I had learned in YLGW: being prepared, present and always showing up ready to participate. Before my experience in this class, I never thought that confidence is what would put me above and beyond other candidates, but this past weekend during elections, I learned that it does. I woke up and joined the zoom with full confidence that I had done everything in my power to prepare for the election. I didn’t hesitate as I answered Meet the Candidate questions, showing my passion for the organization and my ideas for the future. I stood up in front of over 150 teens on Zoom and presented my speech, which I memorized and loved.
During the YLGW session on storytelling, I decided to present my mini speech in front of the group, but I was nervous, and just a few months later, I have gained an overwhelming amount of confidence in my abilities because of what I have learned throughout these sessions. After I was elected as Vice President, I received hundreds of texts from teens, past council board members, and staff, impressed by my presentation of both the on-the-spot Meet the Candidate questions, and my speech. I truly don’t think that I would have been able to perform as well as I did without my experiences in YLGW.
You shared a story of how even during physical distancing you were able to bring together BBYO youth virtually to help neighbors in need. Tell us about your virtual fundraiser for the Capital Area Food Bank. How did your YLGW experience help further instill confidence in leading people to action and prepare you to lead initiatives such as this?
As my BBYO Chapter’s current president, I am in charge of managing and running a seven-person teen board. We started off the six-month term amazingly, accomplishing all of our goals and reaching new heights, but as Covid-19 brought a halt to our momentum, many board members lost motivation. As president, I didn’t want all of our incredible and hard work to be cut short, so I thought about how I could use what I learned during my YLGW sessions to help me navigate the situation. I remember talking about how important it is to put yourself in others’ shoes when you are leading a team, because not everyone thinks in the same way that I might, so that is exactly what I did. I then thought about how our passionate members could spend some of their quarantine free time helping the community from a distance. Alongside some of my fellow board members, we planned and executed a weekend-long virtual fundraiser for the Capital Area Food Bank.
Through reaching out to parents, offering incentives, and using my BBYO network, I was able to help my chapter raise over $1,000 in just three days. When our chapter and board saw the power that we all still have during these hard times, the morale picked up and we were able to finish the term off with a bang, winning multiple awards at the last Council event of the year. If I had not learned about tips for motivating a team and the power of networking during YLGW, I am not sure how I would have handled the situation.
What is on the horizon for you now? What are your biggest goals as BBYO Vice Chair?
As my BBYO Chapter is currently the only one based directly in the District (with most chapters in our Council located in Montgomery County, MD), I strongly want to work on inclusion and integration of our whole area this year. I am the first BBYO member from not only my chapter, but BBYO in the District as a whole, to be elected onto D.C. Council Board, and I am extremely excited to be able to bring attention to improvements that could be made. As Vice President of Programming, I want to make transportation more accessible, event location more inclusive, and work alongside the rest of D.C. Council’s 72nd BBG Council Board and 91st AZA Council Board to make this year our Council’s best yet. After this year, I see my BBYO future going even further as I aspire to run for BBYO’s International Board. The ability that YLGW gave me to collaborate with other teens who have similar passions as I do, continues to inspire me even as we are not able to meet together. I want to highlight unity throughout D.C. Council BBYO this year, and I know that I will always think back to conversations that I had with my YLGW peers. Although they may have been talking about inclusion in their schools, our passions overlap and we all will be able to support each other as we advance our futures as young leaders.
The 2020 YLGW program year was perhaps our most inspiring and impactful to date. Through the remarkable work and dedication of co-facilitators Nathaniel Cole (’16) Sr. Director of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships, America’s Promise Alliance and Mary Mulcahy (’18), Associate Director, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, we pivoted to virtual programming as the outbreak swept the globe.
Our YLGW leaders gained skillsets they will carry forever. Our work would not be possible without the dedicated leadership of leaders like Mary, Nathaniel, and our array of guest speakers, who championed our young people and steadfastly encouraged and supported their dreams and growth amid the pandemic.
The 2020 Youth Leadership Greater Washington program was made possible through partnership with The Graham Holdings Company.
lead photo and portrait by Hannah Knittig (YLGW '20)