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Austin Teen Elected to International Leadership Position

By Andrea Abel

The Jewish Outlook

Austinite Ryan Ladd won election as Vice President of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO/AZA) International Executive Board at the organization's international convention held over Presidents' Day Weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. His term will run from June 2012-June 2013. Son of Eileen and Brent Ladd and a 17-year-old junior at Westwood High School, Ryan quickly has climbed the ranks of BBYO leadership garnering roles with increasing responsibility from the Austin Chapter to the Lonestar Region and now on the International Executive Board.

As International Executive Board Vice President, Ladd and his B'nai Brith Girls counterpart will be responsible for planning the 2013 International Convention in Washington, D.C., communicating with regional vice presidents, and promoting programming excellence. With about 13,000 members, BBYO is comprised of AZA – the boy's section, and BBG – the girl's section. Ladd describes BBYO as an organization that "empowers teens to build a Jewish community and builds a foundation for the future of the Jewish people." That's a pretty big goal for a teenager.

Although centered in North America, BBYO International also has chapters in Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Turkey and Latvia. The Austin area chapters Capital AZA and Ra'naan BBG have nearly 100 members. The JCC provides professional support, meeting space and some funding. Volunteer 20-something advisors Lori Conte (BBG) and Shahar Gurvitz (AZA) work directly with the teens.

Ladd admitted that despite lots of exposure to Judaism, "I never felt I had a Jewish connection. I knew I liked Judaism though." He heard about BBYO in 8th grade and attended his first event. "No one had to beg me to come back. I knew there was something special about the organization," he said. Ladd was hooked on the organization and drawn to its focus on spirituality, service and leadership.

"My freshman year, I took on a chapter board position. Summer after freshman year, I attended the Chapter Leadership Training Conference at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina. Fall term of sophomore year, I served as Chapter President. Then, I ran for Regional Vice President and won," Ladd explained. Ladd's Regional VP term runs from January through December, 2012.

This past summer Ladd spent five weeks attending the back-to-back International Leadership Training Conference and International Kallah, a Judaic program focusing on spirituality. "Those two summer programs had a really big impact on me. I learned a tremendous amount and made Jewish connections all across America," said Ladd.

Ladd sought out leadership opportunities that involved programming which he felt played to his strengths. He's garnered important experience preparing and delivering speeches, developing platforms, building coalitions, managing time and planning and executing effective programming.  Along the way, Ladd has become a strong and effective advocate for Israel, tolerance, inclusion and Judaism.

BBYO involvement consumes about 25 hours per week, Ladd estimated. He juggles this along with a tough academic load, participation in National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta – a math honor society, and as a member of the J-Serve Task Force. Freshman and sophomore years, Ladd also was a member of the Westwood High School tennis team.

"I'm definitely looking for a college community with a large Jewish presence. I don't want my involvement with the Jewish community to stop here," said Ladd.

For those close to Ryan, his advanced leadership skills are no surprise.

"Brent and I were both very active in BBYO in Dallas growing up. This was an important thing to us. We're proud Ryan found something that he wanted to do and pursued it to the full extent he could. The people he's met, the connections he's made, and the leadership opportunities have been amazing for him," said Eileen Ladd.

"Ryan's always had this natural role as a leader. And, he's always had a vision for how he thought the world should be. He's got all of these interesting facets. It's exciting for him to have this opportunity to use his talent for good in this world," Eileen added.

JCC Austin Youth and Teen Director Robby Etzkin said, "I first met Ryan when he was in 9th grade. I was amazed to see how natural of a leader he was.  To take over a youth group that has seniors and juniors takes a variety of skills such as organization, follow-through, tact, poise, and clear communication.  Ryan had them all.  Whether it was working with him on J-Serve, in BBYO, or as a JCC Maccabi Games athlete, it was easy to forget that he's still in high school. It's not surprising to me that Ryan won his elections for Regional President and then International Vice President. Dedicated is a severe understatement of Ryan's exceptional commitment level on everything he puts his mind to. The most exciting thing about Ryan is that the sky is his limit - and even that isn't for sure!" Etzkin concluded.

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