Our Story


July 27—August 23, 1969

The idea of having an annual summer-time youth leadership camp sponsored by the NAD was first auspiciously broached in June 1968 when Gary Olsen and Frank Turk were driving from his home in Indianapolis to the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton.

As a fervent youth-focused team, Olsen and Turk were two of those typical partners who would talk about the possibility of doing something bold someday—anything regardless of the size for our young deaf people. Most of our highly successful programs, most notably the YLC, were launched without a penny in the budget.

Yes, they started many highly profitable and productive activities with cool budget figures of $0.00! Of course, in some absolute cases, they had to use whatever they found in the normally empty pockets of their pants. They ignited their dreams the moment they surfaced, fueled by passion, persuasion, creativity, self-sacrificial ventures and, most appreciatively, the always-supportive multigenerational Deaf America. Simply stated, it was the job that they were virtually born to do–with love.


Youth Leadership Camp Alumni Foundation

Youth Leadership Camp Alumni Foundation was established to set up an endowment to continue their efforts and to promote such dreams for our deaf youth.

On the road to Fulton in 1968, Olsen asked if Turk had something special in mind for the Jr. NAD program in the forthcoming academic year.

Turk’s prompt answer was: “Lately, I have been thinking about the possibility of a summer youth-leadership training camp.”

We immediately agreed that the week-long 1968 national Jr. NAD Convention, that had just ended, was a success way above and beyond expectations. Unfortunately, it was actually not long enough to achieve long-range results, both individually and collectively. At least four weeks would be required for the young people to successfully realize and utilize their true potential through continuous exposure to and partnership with supportive adult role models from all walks of life.

The primary purpose of YLC is to operate as a virtual “minor-league baseball system,” equipping young people and adults with skills that help them achieve strong self-esteem, a sense of responsibility, ability to get along with their peers as well as being supportive towards others around them, and focus on the future as positive and productive citizens and leaders of their respective communities—leaders who eventually become a movement in our Deaf America.


1968 How It All Started

Olsen and his wife, Edna, got married and immediately began their teaching careers and became Jr. NAD sponsors at Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis. They rented an upper-level apartment in a cottage-style house five blocks west of the school: 4337 Carrollton Avenue.

This tender-hearted American house will henceforth be fondly remembered as the official site of our meetings leading to the founding of the YLC. Countless hours were spent discussing, inventing, and finalizing a comprehensive organizational structure for the world’s first-ever summer youth-leadership training camp addressing the significant needs and interests unique to young Deaf people. They discussed and detailed the essential YLC operating procedures, organizational chart, and innovative leadership activities.

What LEADERSHIP framework was employed for YLC Leadership is both leading and following. LEADERSHIP activities are especially designed to develop social skills in the ten essential life areas:

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Development of a whole camper is essential, and each camper has unique interests, needs, and abilities to be put to leadership use. Camper’s positive sense of self is critical for school achievement and success throughout life. Their success depends on cooperative partnership among campers, family, school, and community.



Turk and Olsen believed that literacy skills through participation in The Daily Drum program were fundamental to success of camper’s leadership. They also believed that exposure to and experience with Deaf culture will enrich the lives of campers, their families, and people from all WALKS OF LIFE.



During Gallaudet’s 1969 spring break, we invited prominent youth-conscious deaf and hearing people to join us at a 44-acre lakefront property: Pine Lake Camp in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, a just-established basketball facility owned by a Deaf man, Bill Schyman, who was then a head coach of the varsity sport at Gallaudet. The purpose of the weekend gathering was to discuss the feasibility of establishing an annual Youth Leadership Camp.

To see the list of the dedicated youth-oriented people who showed up.

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The typical camp program schedule was as follows:

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Click to buy the book for more details about the outcomes of the meeting at Pine Lake Lodge.

Briefly stated, the YLC as it exists today—50 years later–was established in response to the NAD’s call for leadership in the areas that affect and serve Deaf people’s birthright of independent living and self-determination. The primary mission then as well as today is to motivate young people to explore their true potential as the persons that they are meant to be—on their own.

The YLC as an organization functions basically as a minor league “farm system,” nurturing and refining future leaders for NAD’s affiliated state associations as well as serving as the school’s “textbook helpers” in its fourth “R” area of education: resourcefulness (extracurricular programs). The YLC activities emphasize the whole student concept—practical educational activities that offer opportunities to develop the social, physical, intellectual, communicative, and emotional (SPICE) skills conducive to mastery of the “tools of life.”

The YLC remains a success because of the 50 years of irrevocable loyalty among those dedicated alumni and supporters who are committed to the philosophy of multigenerational leadership and engagement. They want incoming generations to have every opportunity to learn and recognize that they play a vitally important role in our effort to make a greater Deaf America and that we wholeheartedly encourage their courage and confidence to become who they are.

Onward to another 50 years of mighty, mighty YLC!

To see the list of YLC 1969 staff and campers

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At a 1970 meeting of the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School’s Parent-Teacher Association in Washington, D.C., Frank Turk shared his vision:


Just as athletes ask super stars how they came to be that way; just as politicians ask President Nixon how they themselves may occupy the White House; or as English majors ask authors what it takes to be master writers, so should the teachers and parents of the deaf ask successful deaf adults about the secrets of their achievements…(YLC) is just my personal way of thanking those whose unfailing patience and time-consuming efforts have helped to bring about my present level of success. Many other successful prelingually-deafened people such as myself can serve as a source of inspiration, using our own deafness as our initial qualification, inspiring the children to achieve, and to believe that they do have the ability to achieve as well.


Every Deaf person needs a lot of help today just to lead a normal life. Nowhere in the world can you find a successful Deaf man or woman who achieved their success without the help of their fellow beings. The average Deaf person performs below the level of his or her ability unless they are encouraged to undertake a project larger than they feel they can handle. They are constantly struggling with themselves and need inspiring guidance to make the struggle effective. The inspiration they gain from others is of valuable assistance here.”

To read Peggy Braun’s description of her experiences as a 1969 camper from South Dakota

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Adapted from Turk, F. R. (2019). From acorns to oaks: Promoting deaf youth leadership through multigenerational engagement. Rochester, NY: DeafLifePress.

For a great overview of the history of Youth Leadership Camp, here’s an opportunity to purchase his book.