Leadership is often associated with years of experience, honorary degrees, military commissions, and special awards. It has been understood that to prove your leadership, you needed to climb the corporate ladder and reach a senior position.
True leadership has no designated age or defined accomplishments. Leaders can be anyone of any age, gender, or ethnicity who simply get out there and do it. They pique your interest, act on their passions, are compelling, and lead by example. Research on this subject has shown that the path to leadership begins in early life and can be recognized in adolescence. Knowing this, it’s time to prioritize how we nurture leadership in young people and recognize what those characteristics might look like in action.
Alyssa Diaz is a student at Vail High School and has been working to make a difference in the Tucson community since she was 13 years old. She first got involved in community service when she discovered her love for modeling competitions and pageants. She now holds various positions with volunteer organizations that help to keep her responsible for events, support, and other considerations.
She found her passion early in @BelieveinaCureforCancer. She created this platform to advocate, educate and participate in spreading awareness of the devastating impact of cancer. Alyssa is at risk of developing cancer in her lifetime based on her family history. She says it’s vital that we share our stories and educate others on cancer awareness, what to look for, how to catch it early and find all the resources available.
“When we volunteer from a place that ignites us it makes it apparent that we care, our feelings are true, and heart felt. “
A mutual friend introduced Allysa to Candice Mason - owner and founder of Desert Camo Apparel. Desert Camo Apparel specializes in UV certified clothing with a goal of preventing sun damage. Allysa and Candice’s relationship has grown stronger, and they have forged a bond that has inspired Candice to compete in a pageant herself, sharing her story as a Stage IV Melanoma Cancer Survivor for the world to hear. Inspiring Candice to act outside her comfort zone inspires Alyssa.
Alyssa says she loves being a part of the circle of positive pageantry. There are so many girls from different pageants who make it a point to reach out to girls of all ages and backgrounds to be inclusive. She has often been inspired to explore opportunities because someone her own age has reached out and encouraged her to try something new. She is amazed at the power of shared experiences. Additionally, watching role models in the public eye has helped shape and inspire Alyssa. Seeing their struggles has helped her navigate her social life and be more intentional about where she spends her energy.
Despite being in the spotlight often, she is shy and tends to be quiet in large groups. It took a while for her to come out of her shell and be social. She has found many other girls identify with this. Regardless of their hesitation, many of the girls in Alyssa’s pageant circle have started social movements that drive their desire to help others. They help each other, volunteer with each other, and invite everyone to their events. As a result, this community of young leaders continues to grow. This positive environment has helped to shift the focus of pageantry to giving back and helping others.
“Everyone is watching everyone. When we look around, we all see the world through our own personal lens. The only thing to fear is the chance we didn’t take. No one ever says when they are giving back that they wish they would not have participated. No one ever says that was a waste of time. If you truly care about giving back, you don’t care if you help one single person or thousands of people. It’s all about helping, mentoring, and choosing to lead in the first place.”
It takes a great amount of coordination and self-discipline to maintain her volunteerism while keeping up with her schoolwork. This kind of load can be difficult for most of us to balance. To make sure she is balancing it all, Allysa and her mother have developed a calendar system to keep track of her schedule, and they are often planning two or three weeks ahead.
When I asked Alyssa what we can do as a community to help empower young people to feel they can make a difference, she responded, “It would be amazing if the community reached out to youth that they see in their community and help them, guide them, pave a pathway! We don’t know what we don’t know, and our community is right, we are inexperienced and will need an adult to explain things and talk to us. But our leaders have to take the truest stand in empowering our youth:
Share your time to mentor a youth leader in your community today in the present tense and the educational tense. Show us, teach us, guide us and set us free to lead! Our success might surprise you.
Our parents are not always our best advocates as we might walk a different path than our parents. We have to learn the healthy divide between difference and leadership in a positive way. Don’t assume the spark you see in a motivated youth is being harnessed. Ask them! Help them! Take action!”
Thank you, Alyssa, for all that you do. We look forward to seeing all you will do in the future to inspire others and #choosetochallenge what it means to be a role model.