Montana Youth Leadership Forum offers leadership skills, lifelong friendships

Mariah Thomas

Gene Hermanson, a Billings native, was one of the delegates to the first Montana Youth Leadership Forum in 2000. 

The Montana Youth Leadership Forum, according to its website, aims to “identify students with disabilities who have exhibited leadership skills and equip them with additional training so that they become leaders by example.” 

The forum is an annual week-long event in Helena, hosted by the North Central Independent Living Services. Funding comes from the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services Pre-Employment Transition Program.

Gene’s mom, June Hermanson, was the forum’s longtime executive director, starting in 2000 when Gene was a delegate. She stepped down back in 2018, but Gene’s family continued to be involved with MYLF (pronounced My-Life).

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Now, Gene’s wife, Jenn Hermanson, is the program’s executive director. His sister, Chanda, is a vocational rehabilitation counselor – in other words, her job is educating people with disabilities about their rights.

For Gene, the highlight of the week is students at the program growing into themselves. 

“Some students who come might be the only ones in their community with a

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