“No matter what issue or problem I’m facing, there are others out there going through a similar thing who are willing to help me.”
Thought Bryan Zelaya as the 7th grader left the All It Takes Legacy Summit for the first time in 2013. Bryan was a student at Anaverde Middle School in Palmdale, California. Bryan had always been shy, but when he was invited by his history teacher at 12 years old to attend the summit, he took the leap and agreed to go.
Initially, Bryan was hesitant to open himself up during activities that called for vulnerability. What he discovered, however, was that for the first time in his life, he experienced feeling completely safe among his school peers and staff.
Bryan’s most impactful experience as a participant was challenging himself to be a supportive voice to his partner and friend during a rope course activity when she froze up from fear. This moment began a chain of events that empowered Bryan to discover who he was. In this moment, Bryan did not realize that he was solidifying his identity and becoming more confident in himself. He left the program more self-aware of who he was and how he could bring his newfound confidence and skills to his future high school. Bryan began to feel excited instead of fearful speaking up in class. He implemented what he had learned in his everyday routine by being more confident in speaking for himself and taking responsibility for his decisions at home, in school, and with friends.
Bryan was 14 when he became a mentor for All It Takes. The history teacher who initially brought him to the program sought him out to volunteer as a mentor. He wanted to keep spreading the gift he had been given by the mentors before him who taught him that he has a voice and to use it to speak up, even if he thinks no one is listening.
As a mentor, Bryan not only experienced AIT for himself but also observed how it impacted others. He developed skills that helped him approach each student differently to ensure that they felt safe and supported. His most significant moment as a mentor was comforting a student during a vulnerable moment. He realized that he did not need to say anything that would ‘fix’ how they felt, he simply just needed to sit with her and show her that she wasn’t alone.
This set a trajectory for Bryan that would define him as a leader.
In the years since, Bryan has become one of All It Takes’ most enthusiastic youth ambassadors. Not only has he logged more than 500 hours volunteering at overnight and other programs, he was awarded the All It Takes Youth Mentor of the Year in 2016. Three years later, the life skills he learned as a participant and mentor at All It Takes continue to impact and influence his everyday life.
“Sometimes I’ve found myself withdrawing back into my shell. I recently found my rainy day notes from camp and they’re a reminder that I do not have to hide or try to please everyone. I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone to try new things at school.”
At school, Bryan is involved with a class called LinkCrew that is focused on eliminating the stigma freshmen face when entering high school. LinkCrew checks up on the freshman class to encourage them to keep their grades up and to create events that acclimate them to their high school campus. Bryan has led a Saturday School Grade Booster event specifically for freshmen that provides a space and time for freshmen to get help in classes from other students.
He credits All It Takes with empowering him to confidently step into leadership roles and create an environment where people are treated as equals. He implements this in LinkCrew as well as in Yearbook where he is Co-Editor in Chief. He’s mindful of being an approachable and supportive leader so that his peers in LinkCrew and Yearbook will come to him if any problems occur. Bryan has mobilized LinkCrew to provide mentors for All It Takes programs. Because of Bryan, LinkCrew has provided nearly 2,000 volunteer hours to All It Takes this past school year. Bryan has found a way to integrate these two programs and use the communication skills he learned from AIT to facilitate difficult conversations during LinkCrew’s safe space program. LinkCrew opens up a classroom for freshmen to come in and talk to another student about problems they are facing during their first year. Bryan has been able to transfer the skills he gained as a mentor into this program to ensure that these students are feeling heard and getting the help they need.
When Bryan graduates high school this year, he’s looking forward to pursuing a degree in psychology where he hopes to hone his skills to become a therapist or counselor who is focused on helping youth. He wants to instill in others what he learned at camp; that you are not alone.
Bryan has pledged to take this lesson with him in every step of his life from high school into his career. Whether Bryan moves to Northern California, Los Angeles, or New York for college, he wants to come back to his community and help expand the work that LinkCrew is doing at his high school. His goal is to have a program like LinkCrew in every high school in his community.
Wherever Bryan goes, he’s committed to shine a bright light that will radiate compassion and acceptance, continuing to make a lasting impact through his everyday interactions.