Alumni Spotlight: Madelyn Waller – HOBY Illinois Central South & WLC, 2017

“After HOBY, I was invigorated, my fire was fueled. It continues to make me want to give others the chance to feel heard, important, happy and like they, too, can take on the world.”

Before HOBY, I was really shy and unsure of myself. I was in a dark place mentally. I went to a small high school and it was difficult for me to feel like I “fit in” with the kids there. As a high school teenager, this lead to depression and anxiety. I was reserved and I didn’t have much to say; if I did, I was always making sure it was something that everyone would be accepting of. It was a tough time for me but I knew the beginning of my sophomore year that I wanted to attend HOBY; that was my drive to get through the year.

I heard about HOBY through a friend of a friend. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew I was ready for the adventure it was about to take me on. I had only heard positive things about HOBY. My high school hadn’t sent a representative in years; my counselor hadn’t even heard of it. I knew I wanted to go. She and I did a lot of research on HOBY and it was nothing short of what I expected. Two of my classmates and I registered to go and as the emails rolled in, we kept getting more and more excited.

My friends and I road-tripped to the seminar site and when we rolled up to a ton of people yelling, smiling, and blasting music, I knew I was in an environment I was going to enjoy. I was kind of scared, not going to lie, but I put myself outside of my comfort zone as soon as I got there. There was an atmosphere that was so inviting and accepting that I felt like no one would judge me for just walking up to them and introducing myself. My friends and I branched away from one another immediately. I made new friends on the very first day, people I still talk to daily, in fact.

I think the most important thing I learned at my HOBY program was to listen more than I speak. Listening makes a great leader more than speaking does. I’ve tried to implement this into my life every day. HOBY taught me that being a leader is deeper than just being able to talk like one. If we can interpret what others have to say, well then those are the leaders I want to work with; the ones who don’t let anyone go unheard and implement their peers’ opinions into their own.

HOBY had a huge impact on me. After HOBY, I was so confident in myself. I felt truly happy for the first time in what felt like years. I was invigorated, my fire was fueled; I was so ready to take on the world alongside my peers. My mom mentioned to me about a year after HOBY how much I had changed. I talked more, I took on leadership roles, I was more outgoing; there was nothing too big for me. I had and continue to have no fears. I created a family at HOBY, and my goodness, I still don’t know what I would do without them! HOBY has given me some of the greatest friends and resources. It continues to make me want to give others the chance to feel heard, important, happy and like they, too, can take on the world.

I started running for different leadership positions in high school. I was much more outspoken. I didn’t fear voicing my opinion in debates at school or even getting up to speak in front of the whole school. HOBY gave me the confidence to be myself and to not care what everyone else thought of me.

I also started volunteering a lot more after HOBY. I became so passionate about my volunteer work. It created so many relationships between myself and others in my community. There are times I go to events in the community and I don’t even have to introduce myself because they all know me from my volunteer work; that’s something really special for me. But it’s not really about me. It is gratifying to see the people I serve excited and happy. My community also helped me fundraise to attend HOBY’s World Leadership Congress; I feel so grateful for them and their generosity. The least I can do is give back what they have given to me.

I practice what I learned at HOBY daily. I try to listen to others and to make others feel included. I volunteer and I love to do it. I volunteer with an older gentleman who has no close family or relatives; he is so grateful to have volunteers. He always tells me, “It’s not every day you see someone so young with so much passion for giving back. I can only hope there are more young people like you.” I have volunteered with him every chance I get. It’s the sparkle in his eyes when you say “Yes, I’d love to do that!”, even though it’s over 100 degrees out. With him, I clean the community, help raise money for disabled youth in the community and on a global scale, and I have manned the county fair booth for him for years. He always says how inspiring and refreshing it is to have someone like myself. My dear friend I have spoken about above is one of the main reasons I am so passionate about service. I encourage others to volunteer as much as they can; you never know whose life you will touch!

Youth leadership is important because these are our future leaders in medicine, politics, and all of the workforce. It’s important that these leaders learn at a young age what makes a good leader, good. It’s important they are encouraged to strive for greatness and to achieve all that they dream to achieve while also giving back to a world that has already provided so much. To me, youth leadership is just as important as the leadership of adults. Youth are the movers and shakers! They’re going to be the change!

HOBY is important because it gives young leaders all of the tools and resources necessary to be a good leader. It also puts kids out of their comfort zone which encourages them to take risks. HOBY can be life-changing if you take the tools given and use them to create something better. It also provides a family of people who will support you no matter where life takes you. It’s so important to have a good support group; HOBY gives you that and more!

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