This past weekend, I had the honor of standing beside Laura Segura, the Founder of the National Teen Leadership Program, and celebrating 22 years of leadership and inspiring teens from all over the nation and as far as China. It was a bittersweet moment as Laura has decided to retire and step down as Executive Director of this great organization but she is not going too far. We aren’t letting her off the hook just yet. She will serve on NTLP’s Board of Directors alongside myself and Edgar Wong-Chen, Juan Lepe, Mark Miller, Felicitas Vera, Josh Pukini and Carrick Sears. Through the years, I have come to admire all of these individuals and their commitment to inspiring and preparing our teens to reach their full potential so that they may continue to change the world for us all.
It was amazing to see the 200 students at the Nor-Cal Sacramento State camp and feel their excitement, nervousness, and energy. Luckily, I didn’t have to speak this year at our Closing Ceremony but last year, I pushed aside my introversion and stepped on stage and spoke the words below. The message still sum up how I feel today about NTLP and our teens. Congratulations to the staff of all three 2014 camps and the many participants as well as their friends and families. This is our next generation of leaders!
If you can hear me, clap once. If you can hear me, clap twice. That’s just awesome! I can feel your excitement and it’s contagious! I’m so excited to be standing before you, representing the NTLP Board of Directors. My name is Jen Louie-Abernathy and I’m a past attendee and staffer. Looking at your eager faces reminds me of how I felt back in 1996 when I attended NTLP. I listened to all the motivational speakers, built a contraption to fly an egg and had thought-provoking conversations with other students. I did the YMCA dance too even though I didn’t want to do it at first. I was really self-conscious and uncoordinated and I still can’t really dance till this day but by the time we made it to the stage, I was so full of energy and excitement from all of the weekend’s activities, I forgot all about my butterflies. Instead, I left camp energized and ready to charge forward and change the world.
I have staffed many camps since then and in fact, Justin Knighten, was from one of the groups I led back in the day. A year or two after I met Justin, he wrote me and told me that he had found a coffee bean from one of our group activities. The coffee bean was from “Are You a Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean?”, a very inspiring story about facing adversity and deciding whether you were a carrot, egg or coffee bean. Basically, in this story, the adversity is hot water and when the items are subjected to it, they each respond differently. The carrot was strong and hard but once boiled, it became soft and weak. The egg had been fragile but once boiled, it became hardened. Ground coffee beans are different and unique. When they are in boiling water, they actually change the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.
I am the coffee bean. I have been confronted with many challenges and have overcome adversity. As a child of immigrant parents, English was my second language and growing up in Lake County I had always thought I was different and weird. But NTLP taught me to be more confident and strong and to treasure that I was different. I use my experiences to help others who are lacking the skills that NTLP helped me acquire. I believe I have the power to transform the lives of others. Now by being on the board, I hope to propel NTLP forward. I strive to impact the world by growing NTLP and ensuring its sustainability. I’ve been a part of NTLP for more than half of my life and I support NTLP because I have gained so much including many long-lasting friendships.
Each and every one of you has the opportunity to do something to move us and NTLP forward. Students, you can volunteer in your community, work to improve the environment at your school, fundraise for a special cause or even NTLP, or come back to NTLP and staff a camp.
And parents, friends and family, you can do your part as well to change the world…volunteer at a charity with your child or donate to NTLP and help us continue our mission. You can help us today by simply donating your room key deposit when you check out. Or tonight, after your child gushes about their awesome weekend here at Sac State, sign up to be a Torchbearer and make a recurring monthly donation. Many companies will match your donation so check with your employers. Building relationships is also very important for our growth so if you have any contacts to pass onto us, please send them our way.
Students look to your right…and look to your left. These are your peers. Give then a high five. These are the people who will work with you. Now look behind you at your parents, friends and family. Those are the people who will support you and will always be there for you. Do them proud and remember that NTLP does not end today.
This is not just the year 2013. This IS YOUR year to change the world. So get motivated, go out there and harness your newly found NTLP skills and BE THE COFFEE BEAN!