If you know me, I have probably mentioned HOBY once or twice to you. Okay, maybe a few more times than that. If you've ever heard me talk about it and still wonder why I love this "HOBY thing" so much, here's my story. Hopefully, you'll be able to see the reasons why.

In June 2017, I went to Villanova University and experienced what I consider the best three days of my life. I was a scared sophomore who was feeling helpless. I had so much I wanted to do but had no one to do those things with me. I was feeling drained. Those I turned to, as much as I love them, left me in the dust. I was beginning to lose confidence in myself and in life. But that completely changed during my three days at HOBY.

When I first heard about HOBY from my guidance counselor, I was excited. Because of my parent's traditions, I had never been allowed to sleep away from home before. It was a chance to experience something new, but it was nothing like I could have ever imagined.

This was more than just a regular leadership seminar. I drove up to Villanova that Friday morning greeted by loud cheering and huge smiles by people dressed all in blue. As excited as I was, the moment I had "OUTSTANDING!" screamed in my face had me quite scared for my life. I am a positive person, but I couldn't help but ask myself how these people were possibly so enthusiastic so early in the morning?

After some introductions, a boy and girl, not much older than me, came up unto the stage. They were our leaders for Positive Mental Attitude for the weekend. It was my first ever cheering session. Never in my life had I felt so invigorated after we did the Outstanding cheer. It had only been a few hours but I began to see how special this place was. I, like many of my fellow ambassadors, realized that this enthusiasm was not fake. There had to be a reason these people were so energized about being here, and I was looking forward to finding out exactly why.

It all began with Brian Selander's keynote speech. There was something in how he conveyed his words that hit so close to home. Unlike the other speakers, I had heard from before, he actually conveyed what leadership truly is. It's not always "Look, I made it!" Leadership and life also have its struggles. Sometimes it really sucks, that was exactly what I had been feeling at that moment. Despite that, Brian Selander made me realize "Why not me?" Throughout that weekend, the power I had felt at that moment only grew.

I learned much more than I ever could from a stereotypical leadership seminar. We played games, did activities, listened to panelists, participated in a service project and so much more. We learned about our personal leadership, group leadership, and leadership in action. It hit me how much of an impact there is when everyone works together. My definition of leadership expanded.I learned leadership, in all its forms and felt empowered in every way.

By the end I realized, although Brian Selander had said it from the very beginning, I was not alone anymore. Sitting in that conference room were 300+ people who were so different yet so like me in that we all desired to change our little corner of the world. That small commonality made me feel so comfortable with myself, in expressing myself and saying the ideas that I had never said to anyone before. Around these people, I can let my guard down. I can let my pride slip away. I can scream at the top of my lungs about burritos and little red wagons and not care about how ridiculous it may look. With HOBY, I don't have to worry about "fitting in" because HOBY is the place I come to when I don't feel like I fit in. Love emanates from everyone at HOBY unconditionally. That is hard to find. It is one of the reasons why I've gone back to volunteer the past two years since.

The friendships I make from HOBY never die. I can go a year without speaking to one of my fellow volunteers but we somehow can pick up right where we left off a year later. We never have to backtrack. The people I meet at HOBY are so genuinely themselves. With them, I can feel like my genuine self and never feel sorry about it. With this group of people I know that no matter where life takes us, I can always count on them. Being with these people always makes me feel closer and more open to them than with people I've spent my whole life with. I have nothing but love for these people. They are real. They teach me to be real. Real is rare, as a good friend of mine said. To them, I am eternally grateful.

HOBY. HOBY is my escape to reality, the reality I want to live in. HOBY creates a reality in which we empower the youth to go after whatever pursuit their heart desires, to create the change they wish to see. HOBY gives kids the confidence they need to be a leader and it gave me friends for life. I am honored to have been a part of a group of leaders that help ensure that the years after me, get the same outstanding experience. It is always a humbling experience to be surrounded by the brightest. Not only does HOBY allow me to be myself, but the people there remind me of who I am, but challenge me to be who I want to become.

I'm going to be heading back to Villanova University in the fall. Now you may ask, did HOBY help me pick my college? I like to think so. Now whenever I am feeling down, I'll be able to think of the first time I found my happy place, my second family. I can think of the first time I found home. Because that is truly what it is.

This is the greatness of HOBY. Hopefully, you understand it a little more now. If not, you can always look it up at hoby.org.