From Risky Business to Strong Futures

Taking a dive into the world of event and project management, my experience working with YSS over the past twelve weeks has allowed me to both grow and learn so much about who I am and the impact that I want to make. As my time as a fellow for FLIA and in turn YSS is coming to a close, I will be looking back at an experience that, although short in time, provided a vast supply of self-growth and professional development.

As a fellow, I was given the task of helping YSS revamp an event that they had been having for over thirty years. Originally known as the Risky Business Conference, a one-day event aimed at youth development, YSS was looking to make a change. They were looking to do something innovative. They wanted something that was more interactive - something that would stick with the attendees beyond the event and hold them accountable to apply what they learned. After some brainstorming, it was decided that in place of the traditional conference would come the Risky Business Action Summit.

. . . Attendees would come in teams representing their communities and working together to brainstorm how they could collectively combat an issue within their community

Staying true to the original purpose of Risky Business, this event would still encourage positive youth development, only this time attendees would come in teams representing their communities and working together to brainstorm how they could collectively combat an issue within their community. Also new to this experience was YSS’ decision to provide teams with resources, like monthly webinars and a mentor, so that they would be held accountable to apply what they gain in the summit in their community. With these new changes in place, YSS set out to change the structure of conferences and expand their reach beyond a one day event.

So after months of planning, it was time to start recruiting teams and gathering resources for them. This is where I really started to come in. With the Summit occurring around the eighth week of my fellowship, I spent two thirds of my time conducting outreach and recruiting teams. I also created a resource guide for the teams, which covered topics such as capacity building and team building. I even got to make a guest appearance on the Ames morning radio show “Mel in the Morning” to help promote the Summit.

  Denisha with the host of “Mel in the Morning” radio show, Mel Crippen

Denisha with the host of “Mel in the Morning” radio show, Mel Crippen

The week of the main event quickly approached! Ten teams piled into a building on the Iowa State University campus ready to get to work! They listened to the Keynote speaker, attended workshops and began the process of establishing an action plan to take home and enact onto their community.

While the event as a whole was an incredible experience, the moment that really drove it home for me was during the closing of the summit, when members of different teams came to the front of the space we were all gathered in and shared a brief testimony of the impact that the summit made on them and the impact that they in turn want to make in their communities.

  A youth team member giving a testimony on what his team learned at the Risky Business Action Summit and how they plan to apply it in their community.

A youth team member giving a testimony on what his team learned at the Risky Business Action Summit and how they plan to apply it in their community.

It was really powerful and extremely rewarding to see both youth and adults really benefit from this experience. At the very end of the summit, I was able to distribute copies of the resource guide that I created to each of the teams, leaving my final mark as a fellow on the whole experience. The guides were also made available through an online portal that all teams can access.

My final weeks at YSS were spent planning next steps and discussing the strengths of the event alongside areas that need improvement. With a comprehensive list gathered during a Risky Business Action Summit debriefing meeting, it became clear that the goal is for Risky Business to continue to grow and that YSS staff and Future FLIA fellows will help to sustain its growth.

This experience has taught me a lot, beginning with the importance of advocating for youth and increasing the amount of platforms they have to share their thoughts and opinions.

These last few weeks have been full of hard work, and at times I felt the pressure to make Risky Business a success weighing on my shoulders, but all of it was worth it.

In terms of life after FLIA, my time at YSS made me realize that I would be more than happy to remain a part of their team. That being said, I am extremely excited to announce that I have accepted a position at YSS as one of the Mentoring Program facilitators! Starting this January, I will be overseeing the YSS Ames Elementary School Mentoring program as well as the Community Based Program. The Community Based Program is a new mentoring program that was actually created with the help of a former FLIA fellow!  Thanks to my experience with Future Leaders in Action, I am able to continue my role as an advocate for youth with YSS. I cannot say what the next few years will look like but I am excited to begin this new position and see where things go.