Youth Leadership Conference Empowers Kern County Teens

Friday March 15, 2024

For over two decades, Leaders in Life has been one of California’s premier youth leadership conferences created by teens, for teens. Thursday, nearly 1,100 teens turned out for the 24th annual conference, almost doubling last year’s figures. The event serves as a platform for middle and high school students across Kern County to engage in impactful discussions and learn about issues relevant to their lives.

The conference, organized entirely by young people with guidance from adult mentors, embodies a student-led and student-driven approach. The Kern County Network for Children and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office have played pivotal roles in supporting the students’ efforts over the years.

The conference boasts speakers, a resource fair, and an array of workshops covering diverse topics such as public speaking, mental health, diversity, LGBTQ+ issues, and substance abuse.

Leaders In Life student committee.

Alyssa Paredez and Lorelai Richards are student co-chairs for Leaders In Life. They bear much of the responsibility for leading the team in planning and executing the conference, including choosing the speakers and workshops.

Paredez said it was important to choose topics that mattered to teens like her and ensure students knew they were being heard and understood. 

“We get a lot of compliments saying thank you for hearing us,” she said. “That’s the impact I want to make on people. I want people to understand we’re all a family here.”

Richards says she’s grateful for the assistance of the adult advisors but proud to take the lead. 

“They were there to support us whenever we needed it, but they kind of took a step back and gave us the reins,” she said.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office hands out info at the resource fair.

Christine Goedhart-Humphrey is the Advisor Chair for Leaders In Life. She says the students take over the entire process. 

“We’re here to guide and support them, but ultimately, it’s their vision and passion that drives this conference forward,” she said.

Marketing and PR executive CaraAnn Kirui is a sophomore at Centennial High School. She says she was looking for a program that promoted leadership and fell in love with Leaders in Life.

“I’ve gotten to hear a lot of stories from people and just how they’ve grown and how they’ve learned throughout Leaders in Life, and I think it’s really cool. And I think all these little things that I’m learning can be used in my life,” she said.

Introductory speaker Blake Fly spreading a message of thankfulness.

Introductory speaker Blake Fly instilled in the students a sense of thoughtfulness and appreciation by calling a random contact in his phone and thanking them. He also inspired others to reach out to friends and family with a message of thankfulness.

Keynote speaker Duncan Kirkwood says he was impressed that a student, rather than an adult, reached out to him to invite him to speak. 

“The students led the way, which is really inspiring, because I would think back to myself at 16, 17; could I have planned a mega-conference at that age? The answer is probably no,” he said.

Kirkwood said he hopes to inspire students to step outside their comfort zone and say yes to opportunities, and not to be afraid to fail. 

“I try to help young people understand that you don’t have to feel less-than because you failed or like a loser because it didn’t work out. That experience is part of your journey to success,” he said.

Leaders in Life serves as more than just a conference; it’s a testament to the power of youth leadership, collaboration, and collective action in shaping a brighter future for Kern County’s youth. Goedhart-Humphrey says she admires the student executive board’s resilience and dedication. 

“These are definitely the students of our future. They’ll be leading our industry, they’ll be leaders in their fields,” Goedhart-Humphrey said. “I’m in awe of watching what they can do.”


Keynote speaker Duncan Kirkwood speaks about the power of resilience in the face of failure.

Bakersfield High School Senior and Leaders in Life board member Justyn Shoemake receives scholarship from Leaders in Life.

A student learns infant CPR at the Leaders in Life resource fair.

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.