By Tanner Hood
Eighty-seven high school sophomores and freshmen from across the state spent Nov. 13-14 learning the values of service and excellence during the Alfa Youth Leadership Conference.
Students spent two days at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana networking, hearing from expert speakers and honing newfound skills through games and workshops. For many, the highlight of the conference was the final activity, a service project for patients at Children’s of Alabama.
“This shows us many kids don’t have the privilege we do and allows us to use teamwork to give back to others who are struggling. It also teaches us to be grateful for what we have,” said Hayden Whatley, a sophomore at Lee-Scott Academy in Lee County. “Before coming here, I didn’t have much confidence to step up and lead, but moments like this have taught me how to be better.”
Attendees assembled an array of wooden race cars, helicopters and fighter jets as Christmas gifts for children at the hospital. Alabama Farmers Federation staff delivered the toys following the conference.
Whatley said building the simple toys allowed the group to express leadership values like selfless service.
The annual conference is hosted by the Federation and sponsored by Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit. Students are financially supported by county Farmers Federations. This year’s conference was the second consecutive year with 200-plus applicants.
Federation Young Farmers Division Director Hunter McBrayer said the increase in applicants is no coincidence.
“This conference has become a premier experience because of how extraordinary the students are,” McBrayer said. “These young people come and develop necessary life skills and have fun while doing it. We also invite engaging speakers who show our attendees their potential. They then go and tell others about the great time they had.”
Character development sessions were hosted by professional speakers Noah Galloway and Rhett Laubach.
Galloway — a veteran, double amputee and Purple Heart recipient — shared his story of tragedy to triumph. Using his mantra “no excuses,” the Birmingham native taught students the importance of never giving up while always finding a way to make their lives and others’ better. His parting message was, “Don’t be average. Be exceptional.”
Laubach built on Galloway’s work through high-energy and high-impact workshops. Laubach, a professional trainer and presentations coach, guided students to understand their strengths while acknowledging and overcoming weaknesses.
Lincoln High School sophomore Cristen Haynes said the speakers were intriguing and pushed her outside known limits.
“Through engaging us, it was easier for us to develop and demonstrate the qualities we were learning,” the Talladega County native said. “It was the most inspirational and motivating conference I’ve attended.”