All in a Day’s Work for a Youth Leader

Maria Santana
College Access: Research & Action (CARA)

In my high school, I estimate that ninety-six percent of our students are female and four percent are male. Among the seniors, there is one group of immature, loud, obnoxious, but talented boys – and they were put on my caseload. Being a Youth Leader, I was used to taking on unexpected responsibilities. But that semester, I had a caseload of fifty-six students. Well, fifty-six boys to be exact. I knew that it would be hard for me to sit down and have a mature conversation with them, but I was up for the challenge. As the student body president, I have never met a challenge I couldn’t overcome, or a challenge I didn’t want to take on. I knew that being a Youth Leader meant that I would have to overcome the challenges and get those boys to apply for college. I had to figure out a strategy. In every group of boys there is always a ringleader. Among the boys in my caseload, the ringleader was a boy named John. If I could get him on board with the idea of going to college, I could reach the other boys as well.

When you’re a Youth Leader, you need to be exceptional. You need to confront your fears. Whether it’s speaking to students that aren’t necessarily your friends or your enemies or speaking to students you pass by during the day without making any eye contact. It’s getting yourself to that comfort level within yourself to say, “Yes, this is hard, but I’m a great Youth Leader and I will prevail!” Even though I was not comfortable speaking to that egotistical, immature four percent, I knew that I had to do it because I also believed they were capable of going to college. They might have been obnoxious adolescent boys, but they were great, ambitious, and talented young men. My job was to make sure they had a plan for college.

One afternoon, I approached John, and I told him about my plan for him and college, which was simply to meet with him one day after school and create a list of schools he was interested in. He was surprisingly excited. He knew where he wanted to go and what he wanted to study. I felt relieved to know half my work was done, but I wanted to kill ten birds with one stone. I proceeded to ask him to invite his friends over to the college office after basketball practice so that I could help them with their college searches. He agreed to this plan and we picked a time to meet.

On the afternoon we agreed upon, I waited at the college office for the boys to show up. Ten minutes passed by and I became nervous with despair. Then fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, and finally, thirty minutes passed after 5pm, and I started to lose faith. I started to pack up my bag, feeling let down, when I finally heard a loud ruckus interrupting my focus on getting ready to leave. I heard the boys walking up to the College Office. Excited, I unpacked my bag and welcomed them in. John was most excited, I must say. It was difficult to keep them focused, but John kept them on track and undistracted by social media. We were able to get all of the ten boys to create a list of safety, match, and reach schools. When they left that afternoon, I experienced a sense of accomplishment. I felt like I was at the end of the marathon, and I could hear my college adviser’s applause, telling me what a good job I did.

Six months later, I am proud of those ten boys. They were each admitted into one of their top three choices. To me being a Youth Leader doesn’t mean popularity or a pay check, it’s the power of knowledge and the opportunity to use it to support your peers. It means that someone you know will be attending college to further their education because you helped them. It’s a great feeling that no one can ever take away from you.