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LOFT 2023 – Empowering Leaders for Tomorrow

Washington, D.C., was buzzing this summer as AG Bell’s Leadership Opportunity of Teens program – most often referred to as LOFT – brought 36 teens to the U.S. capitol. The week-long program welcomes high-school students to guide them in developing or strengthening skills in individual leadership, teamwork, group dynamics, public speaking, and self-advocacy.

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By Melody Bertrand

Most importantly, teens who participate also make life-long friends and connections. “My favorite memory of LOFT would be meeting the other LOFTees,” said Emerson Henry, who was one of the LOFT counselors this year. “I never met anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing until I attended LOFT. It was such a wonderful experience! Everyone was so patient, kind, and caring. I’m so glad I could come back as a counselor this year!”

What makes LOFT a life-changing experience is the encounters with other teens who share the common experience of living with a hearing loss. “I found LOFT to be a profound experience. It was refreshing to be in a place where everyone understands your daily struggles as a deaf person,” shared one of this year’s LOFTees.

Images photographed by Darren S. Higgins for AG Bell LOFT 2023 in Washington, DC

Creating Growth and Development

The key to making LOFT a transformative experience is the daily activities. Various team activities helped LOFTees learn and practice skills, such as working together, thinking outside the box, challenging themselves, and using ideas from the group to solve problems while also overcoming barriers to meet a challenge.

This year’s group enjoyed games with DC Improv, a ropes course excursion, monuments tour, and bowling. They also heard from speakers from universities, banks, and other well-respected public figures who are deaf about the options and resources available to them as individuals with hearing loss.

The LOFT experience culminated in an evening reception at the historic Volta Bureau, AG Bell’s headquarters. Teens shared about their LOFT experience in what was an emotional and inspirational moment!

“It was incredible to see this group of teens come together at the Volta Bureau to share their experiences,” added Farrah Matlock, AG Bell’s Youth Program Coordinator. “Many kids were crying and all huddled together as a group cheering, ‘Love LOFT!’. There was barely a dry eye in the building.”

“As a Board member, seeing this group of teens come together reignites your passion toward AG Bell’s mission and why we are doing what we are doing,” said Ivette Cejas, a member of the AG Bell board of directors. “To see the LOFT teens interact with each other and hear their stories was amazing. It was beautiful to see how new relationships were formed and how comfortable they were sharing their stories… they truly are the next generation of leaders. I also can’t forget all the emotions in the room as they realized that it was their last night/day together! It goes to show you the powerful impact of LOFT on these teens’ lives.”

Building Life-Long Connections

Images photographed by Darren S. Higgins for AG Bell LOFT 2023 in Washington, DC

The LOFTees this year excitedly look forward to the life-changing impact the program will have on their daily lives. “I learned that hearing losses are what make us unique, and part of our identity, and not a deterrent. It’s how you integrate your hearing loss into everyday life,” said one participant.

“LOFT made me feel like I belonged,” said another teen. “It gave me a purpose and a place where I could feel comfortable finding who I am in accepting my hearing loss.”

The biggest impact LOFT has is the connections teens make with each other. Carrying friendships through into young adulthood changes the lives of these teens. “LOFT was such a once in a lifetime experience and it was the first time that I didn’t feel alone with my hearing loss. The friendships and memories I made were unmatched, and although the program was only 5 days, I think I’ve made friends for years to come,” noted one LOFTee.

“My experience at LOFT not only gave me lifelong friends, but helped me develop leadership and collaboration skills in many aspects of life,” added another teen. “I am so incredibly thankful for the memories and connections I made during my time at LOFT.”

More information, including registration dates for LOFT 2024, can be found at https://agbellloft.com. AG Bell youth programs, including LOFT, rely on sponsors and donations to run. Please consider a one-time gift to support future LOFT and teen programs: https://agbell.networkforgood.com/projects/153630-kids-need-our-help-from-cradle-to-career

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