On first meeting Nik you quickly notice his infectious laughter and friendly smile. Nik has come a long way over the years – he has grown into an independent young man that is excelling in accelerated high school courses.
In 2018, Nik’s Support Coordinator at Boone County Family Resources, Sherry Nemeth, informed Nik and his family about the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). YLF is a unique career leadership-training program for high school students with disabilities, ages 16 to 21. Youth delegates are selected from their local communities to cultivate leadership, citizenship, social and career development skills at a 5-day summer program located on the Mizzou campus in Columbia, Mo.
Sherry thought Nik would be a great candidate for YLF and in July 2018, after going through a rigorous application process, he was accepted and attended the program.
“It was really scary my first year, I was terrified,” remembers Nik. “So terrified that I made my mom stay for an extra hour and miss work.”
Nik’s mom eventually left, and he began to enjoy himself and break out of his shell. Both he and his mother voiced how beneficial the experience was for him and hoped that he could attend the following year. This led Nik to become a Team Member for the 2019 YLF summer program where he served as a mentor for new delegates.
Nik said, “There were other kids this year who were terrified, and I was able to sit down with them and tell them I was in your shoes a year ago, so I know what it’s like to be scared of this new situation.”
The week entailed mentor lunches where delegates speak to other individuals with disabilities who are leading successful lives, participating in community service activities, playing adaptive sports, and one of the highlights of the week is going to the capital to walk through the process of passing a bill.
“I loved the legislative day, going to the Capitol, and then going from one of the committee chambers, then to the House chamber, then Senate chamber,” recalls Nik. “Watching the delegates learn how to fight for a bill and argue it on the House and the Senate floors, that was really fun. One of the delegates, not knowing it, actually performed his own filibuster when he brought pop tarts into the situation.”
This experience offered Nik an opportunity to further advance his leadership skills, work on career preparedness and meet others, like Sam Andersen. Nik met Sam his first year at YLF, and Sam remembers how their group just clicked. Sam also returned this year to take on a leadership role.
“The forum has helped us understand who we are, and who we want to be,” said Sam. “I definitely felt more confident with the forum, from the forum, and now having the opportunity to lead in the forum. I’ve seen Nik grow with that opportunity as well. I’ve seen him take his delegates under his wing. Being more confident in being able to empathize with other people, and being more confident in lesser used skills, like disability advocacy.”
Learning how to become his own best advocate was also a valuable experience for Nik.
“Learning how to self-advocate, that was quite the experience. Because now I can go into any situation and say here is what I need, and negotiate accommodations if I need them. That has helped me step up to a lot more things. These are skills that I’ve learned that can help me push towards my future goal of becoming an actor. I feel like YLF has helped me achieve that,” said Nik.
As we all sit back and wait to see what Nik does next, Sherry believes his future is bright.
“Participating in the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum has greatly helped Nik to prepare for his upcoming transition into adulthood. I look forward to seeing where Nick goes and know that he will put his skills and talents to good use,” said Sherry.
As he heads into his senior year of high school, Nik is very thankful for the continued support, connections and resources he has received to help make him the person he is today.