I was a North Florida Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, or the more endearing HOBY, ambassador in 2009. I was selected as my school's alternate, so in the beginning, I was not even sure that I would be able to attend. Then I received news that there were still some spots open, and if I was interested, I too could attend the seminar. I took the chance and went to this seminar that my friend told me I just had to experience. I still remember when I arrived for the weekend, I was late because I had my last band concert ever! that same day. It was storming all the way to the seminar site, and my parents and I were a bit lost. When we finally found the place, we walked in with all of my baggage and were instantly welcomed. There were a few people at the front desk who all jumped up and were like, "Are you Eric? Yay! Welcome to North Florida HOBY!" They helped me out with all of the stuff I brought and showed me to my group. I was nervous because my group had all day to kind of get to know each other and feel comfortable around each other, and I arrived late to the game, but they welcomed me instantly; we talked as if I had been there all day. Fast forward to my whole experience, because I could literally go on for hours about North Florida HOBY. North FL HOBY changed me. I knew that I wanted to be a leader at my school, but I had always been too scared to try. I did not have the confidence in myself to believe that people would want me to be their leader in any capacity. I always had a way to talk myself out of opportunities. HOBY gave me tools to change that. From learning how to carry out S.M.A.R.T. goals to learning that leaders come in so many different mediums, has helped me in becoming the leader that I am today. HOBY also has a way to make you feel included. You are never feeling left out, unless it is at your own accord, and even then, they try to include you. When you are a 15 or 16 year old sophomore, that kind of acceptance might be hard to find. To know that when you are at HOBY you do not have to worry about feeling embarrassed by all of your little quirks is something really amazing. Of course, I cannot talk about HOBY and not talk about the cheers! Some people might think of them as silly and not worth their time, but even the cheers serve a purpose. They get the ambassadors (what we call the students because they are there representing their schools) to relax and open up. My year, I immediately took to them! I told myself that I would just throw myself into the experience, and by the end of the seminar, I was calling out cheers on my own. That is what is really fascinating to see. A group of ambassadors come in, most of them are shy with no clue what they are walking into, and the volunteers just start to cheer. The ambassadors are usually unresponsive at first, but then they start to get the cheers, and then they start to do them with us; by the end of the weekend, they are calling them out on their own. It is a complete transformation of who they were when the seminar began, and that is just OUTSTANDING (it's a HOBY word, and yes we have a cheer for it too). So, as my seminar was wrapping up, I was tapped to be interviewed for the World Leadership Congress (WLC), which is like a normal HOBY seminar x100000000. I was shocked to be picked because I didn't think that I did anything special, at least not compared to all of the other amazing ambassadors that I shared my weekend with. I was put into even more shock when I was awarded a $500 scholarship from North FL HOBY to attend the WLC. I owe so much to North FL HOBY for that weekend. The people that I met, the lessons that I learned and the person that I found within myself is something that lasts a lifetime and that can never be taken away from me. Since my ambassador year, I have volunteered with North FL HOBY in 2011 and 2012. During the 2011 seminar, I served as a member of Team Alumni, T.A. for short. Team Alumni is made of former ambassadors who are still in high school and want to come back to HOBY and help out. I enjoyed being a T.A. because it gave me a behind the scene look at what it takes to make this HOBY seminar happen. T.A.s have many responsibilities from making sure that everything is set up for the next activity to getting the ambassadors from one place to the next, safely. It was exhausting, intense, frustrating and unforgettable. Being a T.A. gives you such a great appreciation for the work that is need to make HOBY a success. All alumni should try and be a T.A. at least once, because it really teaches you how to work as a team, work under pressure and deal with lack of sleep for a few days. This year, I served as a Junior Facilitator for the Blue Crew. Being a junior usually just means that you are not old enough to be a full Facilitator, who is 21 or older. Having the chance to be a facilitator tasked with leading a group is such an eye-opening experience. As facilitators, we are not meant to tell the ambassadors what to do and to lead the conversation. We are just there to guide the conversation, to ask questions to energize discussion. That is what HOBY is about, giving the ambassadors the tools they need so that we do not teach them what to think but how to think for themselves, which is what our founder Hugh O'Brian believes in so ardently. My group blew me away with their ideas and knowledge. I knew that they were the crème de la crème, but they still went above and beyond what I was expecting from them as such young individuals. Also, one point that was made numerous times over the seminar weekend was the importance of service and how it is a two way street. Not only do you provide a great help to any organization that you volunteer for, but you are also given in return lessons learned and a filled heart. That is what I received from my ambassadors. Sure, I helped them along the way figure out things about themselves and helped facilitate the growth of their leadership skills, but they also taught me more about myself and who I am as a leader. They showed me what I was capable of when in charge of a group. I can never thank them enough for that, because I already see how much I have grown because of them. North FL HOBY is just such an OUTSTANDING seminar site. The ambassadors are brilliant, the volunteers are so giving of themselves, the cheers are energizing, the discussions are nourishing, the guest speakers are fantastic and the HOBY love is always in overabundance. One last thing, because I'm sure no one wants to read a book on here, but another reason why North FL HOBY is so completely OUTSTANDING is that we have two individuals that give so much to the program, Steven and Tiffany Hall. These two are the heart of North FL HOBY and without the two of them it would not be what it is today, an OUTSTANDING HOBY Seminar Site as ranked by HOBY Nationals. So, thank you Steven and Tiffany for always being OUTSTANDING and for making my experiences with HOBY so wonderful! That's all I have to say. No more, I swear.