Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) helps students with developmental or other disabilities gain new skills. These skills help them to grow as a person and as a leader. Students also explore career choices that interest them.

YLA is modeled after a youth leadership program in California. YLA is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors with disabilities. Students should apply if they want to become leaders.

Become a Young Leader

YLA helps young people with disabilities become better leaders. YLA is a summer program that lasts one week. It is held at a university campus. Students from across Virginia serve as Delegates. Delegates do lots of fun activities and learn new skills.

Students in matching YLA tee shirts sitting around a blue conference table

About YLA

YLA helps high school students develop their leadership skills. These students live in Virginia. They have fun at YLA. They also learn about personal growth, career possibilities and how to use their voice. Students learn to advocate for their needs.

Each YLA class has a limited number of spots. Students are chosen through a competitive application process. Selected students are called Delegates. They gain a unique opportunity to grow as a person. Delegates even make lifelong friends!

Delegates learn from peers and successful adults with disabilities. They create their own leadership plans and expand their communication skills. They even get to talk to state legislators and policymakers. Best of all, we cover all costs! YLA is held every other year in July. It takes place on a university campus. The next YLA is in July 2025. Applications will open January 2025.


The next YLA takes place in July 2025.

Check back in January 2025. We will have info about recruitment and the application process. You can also sign up for updates.

  1. You must live in Virginia.
  2. You must be a sophomore, junior or senior in high school. If you are in a program that does not have grade levels, you should go to high school for at least one more year.
  3. You must show leadership potential at your school and in your community.
  4. You must have a developmental disability OR have another type of disability. (60% of YLA participants must have a developmental disability.)

A “developmental disability” (DD) is severe and constant. A DD is often lifelong. It can be mental, emotional, sensory or physical. A person has a DD before age 22. It affects a person’s ability to:

  • take care of oneself
  • understand language
  • communicate
  • learn
  • move
  • self-direct
  • live independently
  • earn money and support oneself.

People with DD often need services and supports. They may need services and supports their whole lives.

YLA selects 25 students through a competitive application process.

We review all applications. Then we choose some applicants for a personal interview. We make final choices after that. We will call and send a letter to students selected to attend YLA.

We pay for everything related to YLA. This includes lodging, food, materials and the support that you need. Support can be sign language interpreters, personal care assistants or something else.

Remember: Your YLA application must be sent in by the due date. Check back in January 2025 for more information. You can also sign up for updates.

Delegates work on activities together. They grow personally, become better leaders and think about their future careers. They also build their social skills. They join with others in small groups. They have a great time with friends and role models.

YLA invites speakers to talk about important topics. Topics include laws that protect people with disabilities, cool new technology and places in the community that can help.

Delegates visit the state Capitol. At the Capitol, they meet lawmakers and other government people. They even get to speak up about what’s important to them. The event is called a mock hearing. Lawmakers will be at the mock hearing.

YLA Delegates graduate from the program. They become YLA Alumni. These Alumni go back to their schools and communities. They show the new skills that they learned.

Alumni continue to work on the goals that they chose for themselves. They share their experience with fellow students. Alumni help to recruit new YLA Delegates.

YLA Alumni participate in activities and discussions with other YLA Alumni. Each year, we ask YLA Alumni to take a survey. We want to stay in contact and know what they’re doing.

We need volunteers. Volunteers help to make sure that YLA Delegates have a successful time. Volunteers help plan and prepare for YLA. They help find and select students for the program. During the summer camp, volunteers serve as staff, speakers, panel members, mentors or dorm parents. Volunteers come from different places, such as the community, agencies and organizations. Volunteers are YLA or Partners in Policymaking alumni.

For more information on YLA, please contact:

VBPD Training Programs
(804) 786-3441

Sign Up for YLA Updates