Reflection and Action: the 2014 North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference

by Kelly Sleight, Graduate Student and YLC Planning Team member
The sun appeared on November 7th for the first time in weeks to greet the leaders arriving to attend the 2014 North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference. For three days, North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest hosted the fifth annual North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference at North Cascades Institute. Over sixty inspirational high school and college-aged participants, who travelled from various parts of the Pacific Northwest, arrived to see old friends, make new connections, learn about community action and environmental service, define their educational and professional goals, and enhance their leadership skills. These students were alumni of Youth Leadership Adventures, Student Conservation Association, and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities Program. The weekend would be packed full with hiking, learning, planning, dreaming, connecting, and inspiring!

Students gather and take in some of the sights around North Cascades Institute

Once everyone arrived and oriented a bit to campus we gathered into our small groups to get out on the trails and get the weekend underway. Groups headed out on to different trails to get some fresh air, but also spent some time reflecting on what brought them to the conference and ways to start working toward their future goals now. One student reflected on how important it was to “be the butterfly” from Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. “When the man stepped on the butterfly in the past, the course of human history changed,” she said. “We are also butterflies, and our actions can change the future.” (See what I mean about inspiring?)

Students gather to discuss goals and work on Action Plans


Inspiring words from our keynote speaker Vanessa Torres

After a delicious dinner provided by the North Cascades Institute’s Chef Shelby, we heard from our keynote speaker, Vanessa Torres. Vanessa currently works as the Youth and Special Initiatives Coordinator for the National Park Service. She shared a beautiful and powerful story with us about finding her own connection to nature and the power of following your passion. Then as a community we gathered around for campfire before heading to bed. Saturday was sure to be packed with adventure and learning.


Students gather information about opportunities with the Federal Government

And indeed it was. Trillium classroom was packed first thing in the morning for Sunrise Yoga! Then, after breakfast, students would have the opportunity to attend various break-out sessions to develop their skills in a variety of areas. Break-out sessions consisted of a diverse selection of activities like: How to Apply and Interview for Jobs, Build Your Own Adventure: Gap Years and Making Choices, Opportunities with the Federal Government, Do-it-Yourself Outdoor Adventures, Leadership Styles, and so many more! For many students it was difficult to decide which session to attend!


Students discuss their own particular leadership skills

After a packed morning and afternoon, everyone was in need of a change in pace during free time. But still there were so many interesting activities! Many people headed out for adventure on Diablo Lake in the big canoes. Others challenged themselves in primitive skills to make a bow drill fire. And some people headed to the library and common rooms to take a little breather, catch up with friends, and get some homework done.





But time flies, and there were many people who were eager to meet these brilliant and inspirational young minds. Many different partner organizations had travelled a long way to reach out to these leaders about their programs, future jobs, and internships. A big thank you to all these organizations including:



Students meet with representatives at the Opportunity Fair

After dinner we got to sit down with the Student Success Panel. These incredibly amazing individuals shared their stories and experiences from Youth Leadership Adventures, Summer Search, Student Conservation Association, college, and their future plans. They had us all laughing about mishaps on the trail and reminiscing about favorite foods. Their stories were inspirational and motivational. Then the ice cream came out and conversations continued as people connected with each other and the panel. Another day gone by and I am personally hoping this weekend never ends!

Student Success panelist Starlin Galyean and National Park Service Ranger Mike Brondi

Alas, Sunday came around. We gorged on an amazing breakfast, where we sang farewell to Chef Shelby who has cooked for us for so long. He will certainly be missed by all. Then we dove right in to our Open Space time. This was a chance for our leaders to design the agenda and topics of conversation. Groups reflected on issues like fracking, LGBTQ awareness, stress, and community action. After seeing this conversation and dialogue, I was so inspired! Imagine if all our students were leading these discussions? Imagine if we gave them the power to effect this change?

Students discuss topics during open space

We had time for one last hike and a few more moments of reflection. So many of the students were so thankful that they had gotten the opportunity to come out to the North Cascades Institute for this conference. One said that the conference was “an experience that you must have.” Another said simply, ““IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Students gather together for closing circle

What an amazing weekend for all who were involved. I have incredible gratitude toward each and every attendee of the 2014 North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference! So I will leave you with the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Thank You!

Back on the bus
YLC 2014!


  1. phyteclubkatie

    LOVE the photo of Starlin and Brondi!

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