Too often as young people we are told we are the future leaders. People say this as though after years of school, hardship, working our way through a broken system, and reaching some mysterious age of adulthood we might then have the credentials to make an impact. Because of this we grow up feeling the effects of injustice, yet thinking there is nothing we can do to change our world until we are older. “When I grow up I’ll help people,” we say, “Once I get my degree I can fix this.”

The truth we have witnessed time and time again here at NCBI is young people are absolutely leaders right here, right now. While age can be a relative term depending on one’s life experiences, there is something really special and powerful about youth. Instead of an age range, youth is really a state of mind. It’s a vivacity to meet new people and experience new things. It’s a craving to explore the complexities of human relations. It’s a willingness to make mistakes and still love yourself. It’s a voice that cheers us on and tells us to be silly and bold. And most importantly, youth is the state of having an open mind and open heart. Sometimes as we grow older we get used to our routines, we think we are done learning, we get burnt out on mistakes and heartbreaks, and we begin to hurt each other by closing off.

That’s why we believe it’s so rewarding and important to support our leaders here at NCBI through our youth programs. Our goal isn’t to create future leaders, our necessity is to lend confidence, skills, and warmth to young people right now so that they lead our state more and more every day. With the right support, we all are present leaders.

Amidst the heartbreaking violence this month, we have been reminded of our need for youth leadership more than ever. That’s why we’ve decided for this month’s E-News to highlight two of our favorite youth programs:


Youth Forward


Youth Forward is our supportive drop-in space for LGBTQ+ youth. It is one of the most important and necessary programs we run.  Our youth and staff in Youth Forward have built a safe space in which they can discuss issues facing the LGBTQ+ community as well as build pride in their identities and friendships with each other. As Montana and our country is increasingly inflicting violence upon, passing legislation against, and attempting the erasure of the LGBTQ+ community, Youth Forward is more critical and challenging than ever. Our youth are feeling scared, targeted, angry, defeated, and a multitude of other emotions that are brought up by oppression and violence.

As a positive way to release some of those emotions, Youth Forward decided to make some street art for the California street graffiti wall honoring the Orlando victims and LGBTQ+ community as a whole. The piece they created was a collage of poems, phrases, art, and magazine clippings onto letters that spelled out Orlando. Our new practicum student intern, Alston Crudup was a part of the project. “It was very symbolic. I feel like it gave youth an opportunity to feel empowered to make their voices heard as part of their community,” they said. Sometimes when you’re a member of a targeted group, it’s the small gestures that can be the most powerful and restorative. It provides the feeling that you are a part of the grieving, and a part of the innovation.


Sometimes it’s easy to feel completely discouraged and powerless in the face of violence and oppression. Right now in Youth Forward we are focusing on keeping each other safe, and providing an outlet for all of the hurt and anger. It’s difficult to be a leader, or want to stay in the fight when you are going though such tumultuous times. Part of being a leader is learning how to take care of yourself too. We hope to continue to support our high school leaders within the LGBTQ+ community so that their voices may be heard and they feel valued and welcomed.


High School Summer Leadership Camp


Our high school training camp is easily one of the most rewarding and powerful programs we host. Every summer we round up 60+ students, teachers, and school administrators and take them to the woods to train them to be our workshop leaders. This year we headed up to Camp Watanopa at Georgetown Lake and enjoyed the beautiful sights, some moody gray weather, and a local camp moose! We had an amazing upfront leadership team this year with Melissa Koch, Gage Taylor, Sydnie Sinclair, and Tate Bucio. These four leaders were so engaging, passionate, and authentic they did a phenomenal job at creating a valuable weekend of camp.

This year the most stunning transformation to watch was how close everyone became so quickly. Getting on a bus with a bunch of strangers and coming to a leadership camp that is sort of vague for a weekend takes a lot of guts! Folks started out a little nervous and shy but after even just our first activity (our favorite up-downs) the energy in the room was already warmer. By the next evening so many new friendships were made and those friendships turned into honorary family by the end of our campfire ceremony.


Our campfire ceremony is easily the most powerful experience of camp. Our group huddles around a hearty fire and begins to share two things. The first, is the word they have chosen to write on a rock to take back with them. The second, is who they want to put on their shoulders- this could be someone who supports them or someone who could use support from them. These seemingly simple prompts turn into a night of emotional purging, story sharing, and bonding. It’s striking to hear of what we can all endure. Hearts poured out stories of abuse and heartbreak and loss and self-harm and mental health struggles and of hiding our identities. Enough pain to sink us all. But with the warmth of the fire to help us, no one was left without a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and a group to hug.

Even though these stories were sad and infuriating, there was so much love and resilience and strength emanating from these young folks. All of their hearts are on fire. It’s our goal and honor to help them see the power of that, and support them in whatever way they wish to use the flames.

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