Dear Alexander Graham Bell Community,
"The most important lesson that I learned as I grew into a more responsible leadership position was to appreciate the value of the opportunity to be a servant leader, and not to abuse the bully pulpit."
When you were in high school, did you know that you were meant to be a leader? 

I believe I always knew, even if the people I wanted to lead weren't quite ready for me yet. I wanted to be a leader, and as I matured, I learned how to gain people's trust, to speak out on their behalf, and to take a strong position to do the right thing even when at first it seemed unpopular to do so. I was lucky to encounter people along the way who encouraged me to lead, and mentors who empowered me to try new things, even if it meant I might fail. I had the room to learn how to win graciously, how to handle defeat with dignity, and how to find the lessons in my mistakes and avoid repeating them .
LOFT - Washington, DC
The most important lesson that I learned as I grew into a more responsible leadership position was to appreciate the value of the opportunity to be a servant leader, and not to abuse the bully pulpit. Leadership is something we often take for granted. Thankfully, we've been blessed with some incredibly inspiring public figures and trailblazers, people who were filled with an abundance of empathy, a grand vision, and incessant work ethic. Compassionate leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa, have have made the world better. They are immortals. Their achievements inspire me and give me hope.
One of the most important and valued character traits of humans is the ability to lead. Leadership is hard to define and you can't exactly teach it - but you can inspire young people to find it within themselves and guide them in how to use it. And that's what the LOFT program is all about. It's one of the accomplishments of AG Bell that I'm most proud of .
For the past 20 years, AG Bell has brought over 400 teens together through the Leadership Opportunities for Teens Program - teens who are looking to be leaders. Each year I continue to be amazed by their strength and ambition, and to see them blossom as they work with counselors.
Our goal is to send them home with a heightened sense of their own abilities to lead, to be compassionate, and to champion their own rights and the rights of others. We seek to empower them with tools to succeed not only in high school and college, but in their lives beyond .
LOFT - Washington, DC
LOFT may be the most impactful program we have at AG Bell, the one that will endure for the lifetime of each LOFT participant. LOFT graduates make their mark wherever they go. In colleges across the country, in graduate schools, as advocates before the U.S. Supreme Court, as artists, business leaders, health care and social service administrators, the ambitions of LOFTees know no bounds .
Stacey Lim, who graduated from the very first LOFT session in 1996, is a certified Audiologist and a Professor of Audiology at Central Michigan University. She has been acknowledged by the American Speech and Hearing Association for her work, serves as president of the Michigan Chapter of AG Bell, and continues to pay it forward by serving as a LOFT Counselor each summer .
Megan Cantwell participated in LOFT in 2016, and has begun establishing an active LOFTee network that lives beyond graduation. Her fellow LOFTee, Sam Bidwell, brought a strong sense of curiosity and a commitment to learning to LOFT and delivered a stellar performance on behalf of his high school in the PBS competition,   As Schools Match Wits.
LOFTees often come to the program having never met a peer who has hearing loss. LOFT creates a wonderful opportunity for them to learn more about themselves and to be themselves with others who share some of their challenges. As teenagers, we all struggle with finding our own identity and don't know how to accept ourselves. LOFT participants often talk about feeling "left out" and not knowing how to bridge the communication gap with their hearing peers. By better understanding themselves and finding within themselves the strength to lead, they are able to communicate their needs to others with fewer obstacles .
LOFT - Washington, DC
In their own words, LOFT is transformative .
There are no words to fully describe how amazing my LOFT experience was. I gained lifelong friends, learned from the experiences of others, and connected with teens like me. I learned that I should stand up for the things I need and not be shy about it. - 2016 LOFT graduate

My son has had difficulty forming friendships with his hearing peers and classmates. In just one week he seems to have really bonded with the fine group of young adult participants. I'm thrilled to witness his confidence soar! He was treated as an equal and even made to feel at ease despite being challenged beyond his comfort zone . -  2016 LOFT Parent
LOFT gives 40 teenagers every year the skills to self-advocate, to lead their peers, to excel and achieve in academics and the professional world beyond. These skills come from a powerfully inclusive and educational environment that emphasizes possibility and understanding not only of yourself, but others. LOFT teaches teens with hearing loss what rights and special protections they are afforded by the laws of the United States and how these rights enhance their own educational and professional opportunities in life .
I hope each of our teenagers will they carry these values with them for life, making the world a better place for all of us .
The application deadline for this year's edition of LOFT is fast approaching - if you know the perfect candidate for this program, please let them know! You can find out more about the program at agbellloft.com or make a gift to help another teen participate. All applications must be submitted by February 24th. 

I want to thank so many people for their response to this column. I try to respond to everyone, and welcome continuing the dialogue. Email me at info@agbell.org or call me at 202-337-5220.
Until next week,
Emilio EAM signature blue transparent 
Emilio Alonso-Mendoza

 

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.

William Faulkne r