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Youth Development & Leadership


Youth development is "a process that prepares young people to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences which help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, physically, and cognitively competent" (Rhodes, 2007, p. 11-4). Youth leadership builds on the principles of youth development which lead to growth in the following abilities:

  • The ability to guide or direct others on a course of action, influence the opinion and behavior of other people, and show the way by going in advance (Wehmeyer, Agran & Hughes, 1998, cited in Rhodes, 2007, p. 11-4)
  • The ability to analyze one's own strengths and weaknesses, set personal and vocational goals, and have the self-esteem to carry them out (Adolescent Employment Readiness Center, Children’s Hospital, n.d., cited in Rhodes, 2007, p. 11-4) 
  • The ability to identify community resources and use them, for both living independently and establishing support networks for community life, and to effect positive social change. (Adolescent Employment Readiness Center, Children’s Hospital, n.d., cited in Rhodes, 2007, p. 11-4).

"In order to become fully prepared and fully engaged adults, young people need to learn and grow in a range of areas. Whatever age a young person is at, they need to be:

  1. learning (developing positive basic and applied academic attitudes, skills and behaviors);
  2. thriving (developing physically healthy attitudes, skills and behaviors);
  3. connecting (developing positive social attitudes, skills and behaviors);
  4. working (developing positive vocational attitudes, skills and behaviors); and
  5. leading (developing positive civic attitudes, skills and behaviors)" (Ferber, Pittman, & Marshall, 2002, p. 8).

"Leading is the area of development that centers on positive skills, attitudes, and behaviors around civic involvement and personal goal setting. Youth who are civically engaged in a positive manner, willing to participate in public activity, and able to navigate the civic arena are likely to become adults who participate in civic upkeep. In this case, the term "civic" can refer to an entire city, a neighborhood, a community, and anything else that implies public environs" (National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth, n.d.,

Effective youth leadership programs are "educational, engaging, and entertaining. They should instill an active awareness of community development and a healthy respect for civic ideals. Such activities should take place within an environment where students can interact with other young people, learn from mistakes, and successfully tackle common issues" (Appalachian Regional Commission, n.d.,  

Youth leadership "programs that teach useful skills and build the self-confidence of young people ensure capable, effective leaders for the next generation" (Appalachian Regional Commission, n.d.,

National youth leadership programs include LeadAmerica, Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and National 4-H Youth Technology Leadership. Florida youth leadership programs include the Florida Youth Leadership Forum, the Florida Youth Council, and local youth leadership programs. 


Appalachian Regional Commission. (n.d.). Youth leadership resources. Washington, DC: Author. 

Ferber, T., Pittman, K., & Marshall, T. (2002). State youth policy: Helping all youth to grow up fully prepared and fully engaged. Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment, Impact Strategies, Inc. Available at

National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth. (n.d.). Youth development/Youth leadership 101. Washington, DC: Author. Available at

Rhodes, S. (2007, October). High School/High Tech program guide: A comprehensive transition program promoting careers in science, technology, engineering and math for youth with disabilities. Washington, DC: National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute for Educational Leadership. Available at


Florida Youth Leadership Forum 
The Forum provides leadership training for youth with disabilities. Its Web site contains information for youth, parents, and schools, along with trends, resources, leadership and development opportunities.

The Florida Youth Council
The Florida Youth Council is composed of emerging youth leaders (ages 13-30) with disabilities or special health care needs who focus on self-advocacy, peer mentoring, and improving the quality of life for youth disabilities in Florida. The Council provides many opportunities for interested youth, including an Annual Youth Summit, program content at The Family Café Annual Conference, a program Newsletter in electronic and print formats, and an on-line outreach program.

National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF)
NYLF is an independent educational organization established to help prepare extraordinary young people for professional careers.

National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN) 
"The National Voice for Young People with Disabilities," NYLN's Web site contains a newsroom and resources for youth.

Youth Leadership Institute 
YLO designs and builds community-based programs to provide youth with leadership skills. it also creates curricula and training programs. 

Youth Development and Leadership Page
National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth)
This Web page describes youth development and leadership and provides links to resources and NCWD/Youth publications.

National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth 
A national youth-led information, training, and resource center, NCLD's Web site contains examples of activities for learning, connecting, thriving, working and leading.

Lead America Youth Leadership Conferences 
This Web site offers a variety of academic, career-focused and international leadership programs for students in grades 6 through 12.

Congressional Youth Leadership Council 
YLC offers educational leadership conferences for a select group of young people.

YMCA programs offer numerous learning experiences for teens to come together for a common cause and become active and informed citizens. Many programs involve teens in hands-on learning projects that instill civic education and community pride.

Youth Leadership Development Information Clearinghouse
This clearinghouse provides youth leadership development information, noteworthy news and events, relevant literature, and a community forum.

Youth Today: The Newspaper on Youth Work 
Youth Today is an independent, national, monthly newspaper that focuses on professional development and youth issues. Resources in the newspaper include professional workshops and conferences; youth-related media reviews, research, legislative issues and funding sources.

4-H is the youth education branch of the Cooperative Education Service and is available to every state and county in the United States. Youth ages five to nineteen can participate in programs such as workshops, camps, and social activities that help to build leadership skills.

Association of Leadership Educators
This professional association's mission is to strengthen and sustain the expertise of leaderships educators. 



The development of this website was funded by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg
through a grant by the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services,
Florida Department of Education (2010 - 2011, 291-2621A-1C008).

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