This year, the Hemophilia Council of California brought our Future Leaders Program back to fully in-person. We had fourteen teens and three mentors- Rigo Manzo, Stephanie Dansker, and Ryan Faden- join us in Sacramento on March 19 – 21st. Teen program facilitators Tom Hamm and Pat Torrey from Gut Monkey led the teen activities, with HCC Executive Director providing interactive sessions on the legislature and legislative process. This year’s program took place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, the California Endowment’s Center for Healthy Communities, and a special Alumni reception at Cafeteria 15L.
On the evening before Legislative Day, our teen program participants were joined by Future Leader Alumni for the evening reception. At this reception, the teens and the alumni of the program could mingle, share experiences during and after their time as Future Leaders, provide advice, and more. The experience was capped by legislative office meetings on Legislative Day, where the teens were joined by the community at large to tell their stories and request support for GHPP, CCS and the copay accumulator ban AB 874.
What makes the Future Leaders Program so special to the teens who participate?
The most frequent reply we received from our Future Leaders when asked what they liked about the program was, “making some new friends within the community” and “meeting individuals who had my condition”. Often, these teens do not know very many kids their age who share a bleeding disorder. The Future Leaders Program is a rare opportunity to meet other teens, not just from their region but from the entire state, who are part of the same community.
At Future Leaders, even the time between activities and training is a chance to connect with the other teens. One Future Leader mentioned that during free time- “I got to learn new things about other participants who came to this Future Leaders.”
What is the purpose of Future Leaders Program games and activities?
Building friendships with other teens from across the state does not end once training starts, however. Even after the official Program began, our Gut Monkey facilitators Pat and Tom excelled at incorporating “teamwork activities [that were great for] building bonds” into the Future Leaders program. They used these games to form connections between the teens.
Part of building connections is also creating a safe space for nervous or shy teens to open up. One of the Future Leaders noted this by saying the games were “really fun and relieved tension.” Another explained she liked “activities to help us be more confident and braver”. An additional benefit of increasing the teens’ self-confidence was that it made telling their story and advocating easier.
Learning how to tell your story was a huge part of preparing for Legislative Day. Games that develop storytelling skills in a fun way can make a big difference in helping teens feel prepared. One Future Leader was very grateful for the preparation, saying “I really appreciated all [Gut Monkey] have done to prepare us for Legislative Day”. Of course, never underestimate the additional value of just having fun: As one Future Leader phrased it, “We learned a lot while having fun the whole time.”
How does the Future Leaders Program teach teens advocacy?
Bringing together fourteen teenagers from across the state can lead to great advocacy.
How does meeting other teens help a Future Leader develop their advocacy? and Why is advocacy training so much more effective when done in a group setting vs. in isolation?
One of our teens said it best when he explained, “Meeting other people who have had experiences similar to mine was helpful to understanding how good I really have it.” By sharing their experiences, the teens started to understand the bleeding disorders community as a whole instead of just looking at their disorder from their own point of view. Another teen realized “I learned to be more comfortable with my hemophilia” after participating in the program. The group dynamic can lead to a change in perspective. And this new perspective can fuel their advocacy on behalf of the whole community.
As teens in Future Leaders grow more comfortable telling their own stories, they also learn how to tell them effectively to advocate. One participant mentioned “I learned more on how to speak up using concise language” while another said “This program taught me a lot about advocating for my disorder”.
Once the teenagers felt comfortable with their stories and confident in their skills to tell them, they began to feel the power of advocacy. And what is that power? The power to impact the community in a positive way for change.
Future Leader Mentor Rigo Manzo said it best-
“It was amazing to see the Future Leaders use what they learned and apply it when speaking to legislators and their staff.”
Or in the words of a teen in the program, the experience “benefitted my knowledge and impacted the community.” By speaking to legislators on behalf of CCS, GHPP, and AB 874, these teens were certainly impacting their community for the better this March 2023.
How does the Future Leaders Program benefit teens?
Oftentimes, teens will come away from Future Leaders with a newfound confidence. “It has helped me to come more out of my shell than I thought I ever could,” said one young man after finishing the program. Such personal growth does not end at year one for many program attendees, either. Teens can return for multiple years until they graduate high school. A recent graduate reflected,
“I’ve done this for three years now, and it has helped me connect to others like me and allow myself to advocate for others like me.”
Future Leaders can indeed help teens grow immensely over their time in the program. According to Future Leader Mentor Stephanie Dansker,
“The transformation I witnessed in each of [the teens] through the course of the weekend was inspiring. They gained self-confidence, found their voices, learned to work together and developed new skills that will be useful beyond their advocacy efforts on behalf of the bleeding disorders community.”
If Stephanie saw all of that in just three days, imagine the impact of several years as a Future Leader!
Transformational, indeed. One teen called the Future Leaders Program “eye-opening”. It introduces teens to the power of telling your story and raising your voice to your representatives. Teens grow in confidence and skill as they learn and practice advocacy.
And as has been mentioned before, it is fun! How do we know?
Some final thoughts from this year’s teen participants:
“This has been a great experience for me and would do it again in a heartbeat!” and
“[I] will greatly cherish these memories for years to come and cannot wait for the experience again next year.”