I could no longer sit idly by and watch the despair in our youth,” says Will Hutcherson, founder of Youth Leadership Collective. He formed the non-profit organization last year to partner with educators and parents in healing that despair and empowering teenagers.
Stepping Out in Faith
A former youth pastor with an executive position at Next Level Church, he left the security of his decade long job and stepped out in faith explaining, “Despair was on the rise and I felt compelled to do something about it.” It’s not only the despair but also the lack of conversation that Hutcherson feels is fueling the rise in teen suicide and school shootings. Conversation is what he sparks through Youth Leadership Collective assemblies and leadership training.
As a teenager, Will faced challenges from gang violence to drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t until a coach and teacher saw beyond the behavior of today, to see the potential of who he was meant to be tomorrow. This coach helped him to see he didn’t have to be the result of his problems but could choose to flip the script and change his story.
At the age of 18, Will began making positive choices and leading his peers to a better way of life. He stopped drinking and partying and started helping other students discover a greater purpose in life.
Passion for Leadership
While attending college, Will developed a passion for leadership and pursued public speaking. Those skills provided a platform that now carries him across the country presenting motivational speeches and conducting leadership training for businesses.
He still works with business leaders, but his focus is shifting to schools, speaking at assemblies, and working with educators. “At the end of my last assembly, a young girl came up to me, eyes red, tears streaming down her face, and hugged me.” Hutcherson recalls, “Bear hugged me. I hugged her back and told her she mattered. You have a purpose. Don’t give up. As long as you are still breathing, there is hope for tomorrow.”
He exhales and continues, “In that moment, she had hope and believed that tomorrow could be different. These assemblies spark conversations. Students reach out to teachers and counselors. Conversation is a big key. Despair grows in isolation; conversation is the core to suicide prevention.”
Keep the Process Moving
When the students reach out, Hutcherson wants to make sure educators have the tools to keep the process moving. He conducts teacher training on leadership and professional development saying, “The world has changed around them. Maybe they thought they would just be a teacher, but the teens today are not the teens of yesterday. They have to see themselves as mentors, not just educators. Every kid is one caring adult away from success.”
The Youth Leadership Collective has a team of education and mental health professionals working on a curriculum for teachers and administrators to plug in.
“My dream would be that every school does 20 minutes a week with small groups of students having a conversation around a topic. The best way to identify a possibly violent student is through consistent conversation and giving kids a safe place to open up.”
Many schools have funding for anti-bullying and suicide prevention, but it’s not always enough to cover the costs of assemblies and training. That’s when Hutcherson relies on his growing donor base to make up the difference, enabling him to reach students and teachers in schools of all sizes. “I call this organization a collective because I knew there was no way it would happen with one guy and a microphone. It is a collective effort.”
Besides Hutcherson, there are two additional motivational speakers that go into schools.
About the Youth Leadership Collective, Hutcherson says, “Sometimes you come to crossroads and have an opportunity to do something different that could make an impact. Years later you don’t want to think ‘what if.’ I could be wrong but at end of the day… what do I have to lose? I could fail, but so be it; because I didn’t fail for the one kid who had hope that day or the thousands more that I don’t know about. The risk of failure is worth giving them hope.”