On April 11, youth motivational speaker Jeff Yalden arrived at Hudson Falls High School in Hudson Falls, New York, where he kicked off the school’s career day with one of his hard-hitting assemblies.

For Yalden, the third time was the charm.

“Weather prevented the first two attempts,” he said, adding that he was on his way the first time – and was actually in town the second time, watching a varsity basketball game the night before – but a snowstorm caused school to be cancelled the next day.

“I had to leave and pay my own expenses to come all the way back, but – that’s what you do.”

He said that assistant principal Danielle Kuba was his point of contact, and had been trying to get him to come back to speak for the past few years. Jeff’s assembly was followed by a career day, coupled with a St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser for childhood cancer research.

In the assembly, Yalden drilled down on topics such as self-esteem and authenticity.

“When things aren’t right in my life – even today – the first place I go is to the mirror,” he told them. “The fear of failure – you need to lose that real quick. Value yourself. Figure out who you are now – not who you want to be then – because then may never work out the way you want it to be. And it’s really important to figure out who you are not.”

The kids participated in mindfulness training and were exposed to various careers, including law enforcement, education and the military. They were even given pointers on financial planning for their futures.

“They had a few former students who were addicted to drugs and had to go to rehab and go through the court system. They came back and spoke to the kids, and they were awesome,” Yalden said.

Yalden presented a mental health and teen suicide prevention program.

The last part of the day was spent raising money for St. Baldrick’s – and this involved the shaving of heads, including those of students and event coordinator Kim Shea. Yalden offered to pay the difference to make sure Shea had her head shaved, with students chanting, “Shave the Shea! Shave the Shea!”

“We raised more than $1000 to conquer kids’ cancer and a great day of school spirit. I am just really inspired about the day here – it’s about the relationship between the kids and the staff – and the staff and the kids. I think all of this contributes to a very successful experience,” he said.

Shea was happy to see everybody participating in something above and beyond the confines of a regular school day.

“When we have activities like this in our school that aren’t necessarily purely academic – when we take the time to connect with our students in different ways than we connect with them every day – it should encourage them to want to be here,  and hopefully they will see all of us – all of the people from the community, all their teachers, their teaching assistants, the support staff in our building – and they will recognize that we really care about them in 100 different ways that they might not really consider on a daily basis,” she said.

Kuba cited the day as one of the best she has had since she started there as assistant principal in January.

“I loved seeing our kids in a different light,” she said. “I loved seeing them having fun. I loved seeing them connecting with each other – and to see them tune in to Jeff was incredible. To see them connecting with their teachers and the other staff members was just an absolute joy.”

Principal Jim Bennefield was equally impressed with the day.

“It’s just nice to see our kids live up to their potential. That’s the potential we know they have every day. We don’t get to see that every day, and hopefully we will see more of that going forward,” he said.

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