How We Started

After attending several national leadership conferences, in 1994 it was
decided Minnesota could start its own youth leadership conference. A
volunteer group of conference planners was organized. The group
represented DHS, county social service agencies, nonprofit agencies
serving youth, and former foster care youth. Beginning in 1995, this
group has planned and executed a two-and-a-half-day Tomorrow’s
Leaders Today (TLT) Conference.

Purpose

The purpose of the conference is threefold:
* To celebrate and enhance the leadership capacity of youth
* To teach leadership skills that can be used now and in the future to
affect personal and community change
* To strengthen the network of adults who value youth leadership.

About the Conference

The conference is for current or former foster youth ages 16 to 20 who
are either on a county social worker’s caseload or involved with a
nonprofit agency youth program. These are not youth who are likely to
be invited to a mainstream youth leadership conference. The conference
is held each summer at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Youth
and youth workers sleep in dormitories and eat in the campus cafeteria.
About 250 people attend each year. For example, one year, youth from
13 counties, one American Indian reservation, and 11 nonprofit agency
programs attended. About half the participants were from the metro area,
half from out-state Minnesota. Participants represent a wide range of
cultures and races.
The TLT Conference defies description. It includes large group
activities, multiple individual workshop sessions, keynote speakers,
motivational music, comedy, storytelling, ethnic dance groups, art
projects, and more.
This conference is a highlight of their year for youth workers and youth
alike. Youth tell us:
* The environment is fun, positive, friendly and respectful.

*Staying in a dormitory is a good experience.
* Meeting new people and learning about other cultures is great.
* The conference shows how much people believe in us.
* The conference is encouraging and inspiring.
* Everyone has something to contribute, not just “important” people.
* The conference changed my perspective on a lot of things in my life.
* Everyone has strengths, abilities and potential.
After attending the TLT Conference youth act on the realization that
they can make a positive difference in their own communities. Some of
their activities have included:
* Testifying before a committee at the Minnesota State Legislature on
the need for transitional housing for homeless people
* Running a support group for younger children in foster care
* Speaking to county commissioners and DHS staff about how to
improve the child protection system, and how to improve training for
foster parents
* Visiting with state legislators about the need for a new high school
* Mentoring younger youth in out-of-home placement
* Partnering with an adult to facilitate an independent living skills
training group.
The TLT conference empowers youth. It encourages them and gives
them the tools they need to participate in their communities in
meaningful and constructive ways. These youth have a great deal to say
about how to improve the child welfare system, because they have
experienced it. The TLT conference changes young peoples’ self-concept
from disenfranchised to contributing, knowledgeable, and valued
community members. The TLT conference is also intended to change
adults’ views. The conference is built on a foundation of positive youth
development. Youth workers are encouraged to recognize each youth’s
talents, abilities, and knowledge, and to return home committed to
involving youth in their community in a positive way.

We ask that agencies only send youth that genuinely express an interest
and desire to attend. Requiring youth to attend contradicts the goal of
fostering youths’ capacity to impact change and self-determination.
Please do not “high pressure” youth in their decision-making about
attendance by highlighting the chance for a trip out of town or a cool
boat ride. We really want youth that are committed to building their
leadership skills and to connecting with other youth that want to do the
same. Voluntary participation helps to lay the foundation for a positive
and rich experience for all attendees. Similarly, we ask that you choose
adult chaperones that are committed to ongoing support of youth in their
efforts at becoming leaders in their communities, agencies, or programs.
It is our hope that attendance at this conference will help with the
development of youth-adult partnerships in programs throughout the
state.

Discover The Future

Join us as we work to show our youth the many possibilities the future holds.