The Youth Leadership Academy Changed my Life

Fermina holding a handmade poster that reads, Be Proud of Who You Are"

My name is Fermina E. Lopez. I have faced many barriers in my life due to my Intellectual and physical disabilities caused by my genetic disorder, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS). Being a part of the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) has helped me eliminate some of my barriers. During my high school years, I started to plan my future as an adult. I wanted to go to college and have a career as an event planner. Many people told me throughout my high school years that I would not be able to reach my goals because of my disability. I started to get sad and depressed because I started to believe what people were telling me. My family encouraged me to find resources that would help me advocate for myself to reach my goals. During my search someone told me about YLA and encouraged me to apply.

I was accepted into the YLA 2018 cohort. It was one of the best experiences because I learned so much. I learned it was ok to be me and that everyone is different with different challenges, but our challenges don’t have to keep us from our dreams. I learned how to advocate for myself and learned how to understand my disability and how it might affect my job. I learned I had rights to ask for accommodations and to be treated fairly at work. YLA also taught me how to find resources that would continue to help me as I transitioned into being a young adult. The things I learned at the YLA have been life changing for me. I strongly believe that YLA is a great opportunity for youth with disabilities to learn how to plan their future. Since 2018, I have attended the YLA as a participant and a peer mentor and every year I learn more about myself and how to reach my goals.

This year I am on the faculty for YLA, helping to plan and facilitate the event. I also work with other organizations across the country organizing, facilitating, and presenting at events – which has always been my dream. I know that the things I have learned and the connections I have made at YLA have played a big role in my success.

Applications for Youth Leadership Academy 2022 are due May 15, 2022.

For more information and a link to the current application, visit our Youth Programs page.