No matter how the dozens of teenagers entered the Gainesville Civic Center on Friday morning, when they left, they were better leaders than when they arrived.
The more than 100 students from Hall, Walton and Barrow counties were in Gainesville for an annual leadership conference sponsored by their schools' Partnerships for Success Clubs and the Disability Resource Center in Hall County.
"The goal of the club is to teach students with and without disabilities how to relate to each other," said Colleen Lambert, coordinator of the grant-funded program run through the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.
For West Hall High School 12th-grader Pamesha Young, joining her school's club has helped her on a personal level.
"I have a sister with special needs, so this club helps me to understand her better," Young said.
During the conference, the students - mostly high schoolers but with a few middle school groups - heard from speakers who told them about the importance of thinking and acting positively.
"When I was in fourth grade, I lost my vision. I remember teachers telling me that I needed to be a strong advocate for myself," said Efren Chavez, a Gainesville State College student. "I believe that life will put many challenges and obstacles in your way, but how you handle it will determine your success. No matter what your ability or disability, you can succeed if you think positively."
The students, who are officers in their schools' clubs, also got the opportunity to break into smaller groups to discuss leadership required in their roles.
"I think this conference is great because we get the chance to learn from (our peers) and to find out what they are doing at their schools and how we can improve things at our own school," said Abigail Rios, a Chestatee High School senior. "I used to be so shy, but being a part of the Partnerships Club has helped me to become more outgoing and a lot more confident."
Although they are just in high school, some participants said the skills they're learning now will serve them well in the future.
"Being a part of this club helps you learn how to communicate well with different types of people" said Durham Harris, a North Hall High School senior. "If you are able to communicate well, then it helps you communicate with confidence."
Flowery Branch High School alumnus James Lambert spoke to the students about how taking leadership roles now can help them succeed after high school.
"Whether you go straight to work after high school or whether you go to college, everyone looks for people with leadership skills," said Lambert, who is a freshman at Georgia Southern University.
Lambert also encouraged the students to try out different leadership styles.
"Servant leadership means putting others before yourself," he said. "Being a leader isn't just about telling people what to do, it's also about enhancing the other people on your team."
For many, the Partnerships Club has boosted confidence.
"I've learned how to make friends with all kinds of people," said Caleb Cantrell, a Chestatee High School freshman. "I didn't expect to become a leader, but now I think I can be one."