Ukiah Unified proudly announces that Ukiah High School student Cody Zeher was selected in a state-wide search as a delegate at the 2023 Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF). The forum is for students who were Juniors or Seniors during the 2022-23 School year, who have any type of disability, and who exhibit leadership potential.
“It is with immense pride that we extend our heartfelt congratulations to Cody for his selection to attend the Youth Leadership Forum! He is a beacon of inspiration to his peers, teachers, and our entire community. This remarkable accomplishment serves as a testament to Cody's spirit and unwavering determination. His journey has been one of triumph over adversity, showcasing his extraordinary strength and courage. As Cody embarks on this new chapter in life, we have no doubt that he will continue to inspire those around him,” said Ukiah Unified Director of Special Education Lydia Colvig.”
YLF is a six-day leadership program for students with disabilities, which will be conducted through in-person activities and online sessions. Students will learn advocacy and leadership skills from alumni and professionals with disabilities and create a “Personal & Career Leadership Plan” to help reach their future education, independent living, and career goals.
Cody was clear about why he wanted to attend the YLF. He wants to help students with disabilities in overcoming the very obstacles he has faced in life. He explained that his childhood was not like most because he wasn’t able to speak and had difficulty walking. Cody’s journey included foster care; after some turbulent early years, he found a permanent home when he was five. For many of the early years of his life, he relied on a communication aid called Nova Chat to help him communicate. After a lot of hard work, he found his own voice at age 13. Today, he uses his voice to communicate and speaks comfortably. “My disability isn’t always easy because people have a hard time understanding me, but I think that made me more patient. When people don’t understand me, I just repeat myself or use my speech App,” he said.
After spending some time with Cody, you realize he is comfortable with leadership positions and is very popular with the diverse Ukiah High School population. "Every star shines a little differently; Cody's star shines on everyone who meets him. From his friendly smile around campus to his fierce determination on the wrestling team, Cody lights up our school," said Laura Rowland, one of Cody’s teachers at Ukiah High. He is on the wrestling team, was on the Junior Giants for several years, and has studied guitar. “I was a Teacher’s Assistant for my PE teacher. For my Senior year, I am signing up for our school Leadership class which plans the school dances and organizes Clubs Days and other school events. I love being involved in my school community,” Cody commented.
Delegates at the YLF attend both virtual and in-person sessions from July 13-19, 2023, at California State University in Sacramento, CA. While at the forum, delegates attend a combination of large-group presentations and small-group meetings. Additional post-program sessions in the months following YLF are offered virtually.
The forum is an opportunity for delegates to interact with state and national leaders with disabilities, which include celebrities, politicians, entertainers, and other adult role models with disabilities. Participants also make lifelong friendships with other delegates from all over California and have mentorship opportunities with alumni.
The event is sponsored by the California Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and administered annually through a collaboration of state agencies, non-profit organizations, private industry, and YLF Alumni. A governance committee comprised of representatives from several YLF partners provides guidance, direction, and support.
A competitive application and selection process for the forum went on throughout the 2022-23 school year. A committee reviewed and scored all of the applications, and interviews were conducted with the most highly rated applicants during January and February of this year. After the interviews, a panel of Disability Community leaders from across California made the final selections in March 2023. When Cody was notified, he was ecstatic!
Cody believes he will gain a lot while at YLF that he can bring back to help students at Ukiah High School. “I think I will learn leadership skills at YLF this summer,” he said. “That means even if I’m disabled, I can help people who aren’t disabled because I have learned how to do it for myself.”