The NAD Youth Leadership Camp began auspiciously: it was an idea created through a conversation between friends.
In 1968, Frank Turk, then the national director of Junior NAD, and Gary Olsen, then Junior NAD project specialist, were driving to the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton to assist with the printing of the biennial Junior NAD Convention procedures. While on the road, Turk and Olsen began a leisurely, but serious conversation about developing and encouraging leadership among Junior NAD members.
They hit upon the idea of a summer camp for deaf youth, which would focus on personal growth and development in high school students, as well as the Junior NAD mission of "scholarship, leadership, and citizenship."
Turk and Olsen decided that a one-week program would not be long enough to obtain successful results. They settled on a length of four weeks, which would provide more time for campers to make progress on searching for their self-identities, be exposed to successful deaf leaders, and learn about various youth-related topics.
The first YLC took place at the 44-acre Pine Lake Camp near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, from July 27 to August 23, 1969, with Olsen as its director. The camp focused on recruiting Junior NAD members and students from deaf schools. Sixty-four freshmen and sophomores from deaf schools across the nation attended the camp, a number that has remained the same for each session since then.
Several traditions were established during the first-ever session. The first tradition was the highly popular “’around the clock’ bull sessions with invited adults from various occupational fields.” These adults included notable figures like Robert Panara, Jack Gannon, and Dr. David Peikoff. Also, the daily publication, “The Daily Drum,” was ‘born’ at YLC and has since become a popular, cherished part of the camp program. Campers also went on field trips to nearby locations and held their own governing body for the camp known as the Camp Council.
Shortly after the first YLC camp session ended, Turk announced the purchase of the 32-acre Swan Lake Lodge in Pengilly, Minnesota, as a permanent home for the YLC. Beginning in July 1970 and continuing throughout the YLC tenure in Minnesota, two sessions of the YLC were held each summer at the Swan Lake Lodge.
The YLC program included training in leadership skills, language arts, social studies, health education, first aid, and programs in deaf history, group dynamics, drama, recreation and arts and crafts. During the YLC tenure at Swan Lake Lodge, the camp became known as the NAD YLC and the application qualifications were revised as campers were no longer required to be Junior NAD members or students at deaf schools.
Unfortunately, after the 1989 session, the Swan Lake Lodge campgrounds failed to meet health and safety regulations. The YLC program was in danger of being discontinued until the NAD, with the help of Fred Weiner, found new campgrounds in Oregon. The NAD chose Camp Taloali, in Stayton, Oregon, partly “because it is land owned and run by deaf people.” The NAD YLC relocated to Camp Taloali in the summer of 1990. Before the camp began, staff and volunteers had to travel to Minnesota to pick up equipment that belonged to the NAD YLC, such as boats and athletic equipment, and bring it to Oregon.
Tim Rarus, one of the student leaders of the 1988 Deaf President Now movement, served as camp director. The other three student leaders – Jeff Covell, Bridgetta Bourne, and Greg Hlibok – also came to speak to the campers, continuing the tradition of deaf leaders as speakers and role models.
This session was made memorable when one of the campers got lost in the woods and a major search party including horses, dogs, and helicopters had to be assembled to look for her. She was found 31 hours later. The incident attracted national media attention and, as a result, the NAD YLC began teaching campers wilderness survival skills.
Since 1997, the NAD YLC has published a “yearbook” of staff, campers, and camp events. The yearbook has joined The Daily Drum, Camp Council, and Fireside Chats (formerly the ‘bull sessions’) as one of the more popular parts of the camp program.
Also added to the NAD YLC program since its move to Camp Taloali are the Camp Bowl, a trivia contest, and the Mr. and Miss NAD YLC pageant.
The NAD YLC remained at Camp Taloali for twelve years until administrators of the campground decided to implement a year-round program that would not include the NAD YLC. The NAD, then, moved the NAD YLC to Camp Lakodia, owned by Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the summer of 2003.
Due to a scheduling conflict, the NAD YLC moved yet again to 30-acre Sertoma Camp Endeavor (SCE) in Dundee, Florida, for its 2004 session. At SCE, the NAD YLC celebrated its 35th anniversary of serving and educating deaf youth. Unfortunately, SCE was severely damaged by three hurricanes in 2004 and they could not guarantee that the site would be back in shape for the 2005 NAD YLC session.
In 2005, the NAD YLC moved back to Camp Taloali in Stayton, Oregon.
In the 43 years since its inception, the NAD YLC has turned out over 2,000 alumni, many of whom have become successful leaders in both the deaf and hearing communities.