What is YLI?

The Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) releases untapped potential in the next generation of community leaders. This untapped potential is released as students learn skills that propel them into their next steps of life and as they embrace their roles as shapers of a community where their dreams can be realized.   

High school students get out of the classroom and into real-life learning experiences throughout Greater Des Moines. Their teachers are local business and community experts. Their subjects are opportunities and challenges in our region. Their lessons teach self, group, professional, and community leadership skills to prepare for their futures. Their program graduation showcases students who are ready to shape a community and take action.

Who should apply?

Students with plenty of room to grow! Participants who gain the most from YLI are:

  • Ready to learn about their community and how they can shape its future.
  • Enthusiastic about building professional skills and gaining exposure to possible career paths.
  • Open to exploring their leadership potential, perhaps having had few previous opportunities.
  • Sincere about forming connections with fellow students and mentors from across Greater Des Moines.
  • Eager to gain confidence, step outside their comfort zones, and learn about themselves.

Application & Program Details

  • The application period has been closed for the Class of 2023. Mark your calendars for February 2023, when we will start to accept applications for the Class of 2024.
  • You can recommend a student for the Class of 2024 at any time throughout the year.
  • Sessions take place one full Friday per month and one Monday evening per month.
  • The program is tuition-free, thanks to generous support from people and organizations who believe in the leadership potential of youth.
  • Applicants should apply during their freshman, sophomore or junior years to participate in the program for the following year.
  • Class selection will be completed and announced in May. Approximately 35 students from public and private high schools from across the Greater Des Moines area will be selected.
  • Contact Kelly Royal at kroyal@gdmli.com with questions about the program.

Student Resources

Alumni Resources

Straight from the Students

The leadership skills that I have gotten to witness and experience though YLI are greater than I ever could’ve imagined. I have been fortunate to be able to  interact with amazing community leaders and learn from their experiences. My communication and interpersonal skills have gotten stronger from interacting with my mentors and learning from them.  The skills I have gained and improved upon relate heavily to the five leadership practices, in which I have become better at identifying in my everyday life. I will be able to use these attributes as I continue to go after my personal and professional goals. 

-Charlie, YLI Class of 2019

YLI has changed my mindset, my point of view, my insight on things, and my options for the better. YLI gives the experiences of a lifetime and leads to other opportunities for high schoolers that you may not get anywhere else in Des Moines. YLI has taught me that I have to speak up and share my opinions on what I love.

-Riziki, YLI Class of 2019

In the last 5 years, I have met with many capable smart young people. In working with them, I have realized that even though most have good grades, they lack other life skills. Good grades alone can’t get them scholarships and ready for future jobs. They will need leadership, service and character to help them secure great opportunities and that is what YLI offers. YLI has helped my daughter enhance her other skills and I truly appreciate the opportunity that my child has been given through YLI.

-Nancy, Riziki's Mom

YLI is made possible by the generous support and collaboration with:



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