The Backdrop of A Grand Adventure
As you already know, the essence of “The Vibe with Ky” is all about fostering joy, smiles, and candid conversations around mental health, with a sprinkle of hilarity here and there. Just like in our regular content, I found myself in the midst of smiles, laughter, and a whirlpool of beautiful, yet quirky moments during my recent adventure to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Why was I there, you ask? To be honored as one of the “Ten Outstanding Young Americans” by JCI USA. Something that is such an incredible honor.
(Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to assure you that while I was off gallivanting and accepting awards, our feline overlords (my cats, Hamilton and Burr) were being well taken care of.)
The Chatty Uber Ride and Haunted Accommodations
Picture this: it’s the crack of dawn and I’m on my way to the Philadelphia International Airport courtesy of Uber. Despite my plea for a quiet ride — a nod to the introvert in me — the universe had other plans. Yes, we chatted, and yes, it was delightful. Sometimes going against your introverted nature unveils the warmest conversations, doesn’t it?
Fast forward to arriving at the Crown Plaza for the JCI USA event, and boy oh boy, was I in for an adventure. From wandering in the perplexing layout of the hotel to finding myself in a room with personality — a broken sink, no hot water, and an air conditioner that didn’t know how to… air condition — it was all oddly refreshing. The whispers of the hotel being a former hospital (or was it haunted?) added a zesty undertone to the entire experience.
About JCI USA
The event was orchestrated by JCI USA, a vital part of the global non-profit network known as Junior Chamber International (JCI). Catering to young individuals aged between 18 and 40, JCI operates with the vibrant energy and innovative spirit of youth, fostering leadership and initiative across borders. With a presence in around 124 countries, its expansive network stretches through regional and national organizations, pulsating with the youthful heartbeat of motivated changemakers globally.
Play Ball! New Friends and Old Ghosts
Before I knew it, I was off on my quintessential baseball adventure at the majestic Target Field, reveling in the beautiful game between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Mets. The atmosphere was electric, but what made the day truly special were my seatmates, the heartwarming couple Anna & Nick. Their generosity and warm spirits amplified the joy of the Twins’ victory, continuing my lucky streak of witnessing home team triumph in every stadium I visit. You’re welcome, Minnesota!
About the TOYA Awards
The TOYA Award (Ten Outstanding Young Americans) bestowed annually by JCI USA since 1934, carries a legacy of honoring distinguished young visionaries who have made significant contributions in various fields. Acknowledging the tireless efforts of ten Americans aged between 18 and 40 each year, the award shines a spotlight on those who have forged positive pathways of change on local, national, and global scales. The illustrious roster of past recipients — encompassing luminaries such as Drew Brees, Marcus Mariota, Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Michele Tafoya, Christopher Reeve, and John Cena — bears testimony to the esteemed pedigree of this recognition.
The Day of TOYA: Chaos, Laughter, and Inspiration
Saturday rolled around quicker than expected. Now, I can’t help but give a mammoth shoutout to JCI Michigan and the phenomenal Carol Pickleman at this juncture. Their unyielding support and Carol’s heartfelt nomination are the very pillars that held this journey together. I am where I am largely thanks to the loving JCI Michigan family, and Carol’s incredible support of me and my growth. I am still trying to figure out ways to thank her.
As the day unfolded, a whirlwind of events took place, starting with a lunch catastrophe that left me smelling like a walking salad dressing advertisement. But hey, who doesn’t love a splash of ranch and mayo all over your outfit 5 minutes before a meet & greet, right?
Then came the inspiring Q&A panel with my fellow awardees, an assembly of truly outstanding individuals from diverse walks of life, all unified by their immense contributions to society. The interaction buzzed with laughter, stories, and yes, friendly banter with Bobby Webster, the General Manager of the Toronto Raptors, bringing out the devoted Philadelphia 76ers fan in me.
The 2023 TOYA Recipients
Top Row (Left to Right): Tiffani Jackson Jaymes Sime, Kyrus Keenan Westcott, Julian Gluck, Erin Kanno Uehara. (Not Pictured: NBA Player Georges Niang.)
Bottom Row (Left to Right): Hudda Ibrahim, Senator Aaron Rouse, Bobby Webster, Clare Richards. (Pictured bottom row center is JCI USA National President Nathan Martin)
Don’t worry, I am going to be writing blog posts highlighting all of these individuals independently because, WOW, their stories are incredible!
A Speech From the Heart and Celebratory Vibes
As the gala began, amidst the laughter and tears, inspired by the heartwarming tales of my fellow TOYA recipients, I found myself reflecting so much about my personal journey with mental health. Each story echoed inspiring sentiments of resilience, passion, and a relentless pursuit of positivity fostered daily on all of their respective platforms and projects and initiatives.
As I stood to deliver my speech — a concoction of humor, inspiration, and earnestness — I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to everyone in the mental health community, for being a part of my journey, and also forging your own path toward mental wellness. You all truly inspire me in ways you’ll never understand. (Seriously, thank you.)
Beyond the TOYA Gala: Connections and Reflections
With the gala behind us, I ventured into the fun-filled after-parties and explorations with some of the amazing people I met during the conference. But amidst the laughter and new friendships blossoming, my introverted self was calling for a retreat, a moment to recharge and savor the whirlpool of experiences the TOYA event had bestowed upon me.
Back to Our Joyful Journey
As I sit here, reflecting upon the roller coaster of events, I find myself filled with an enriched sense of purpose and an even deeper connection with each one of you. It’s a reminder that at the heart of all the laughter, the jokes, and the candid conversations, is a community united by love, understanding, and the joy of simply being ourselves.
As we forge ahead, embracing both our imperfections and our victories, I invite you to continue this journey with me. Dive deeper into the world of mental health and happiness with my podcast, a podcast that will soon feature sessions with the inspiring stories of my fellow TOYA awardees.
To the JCI USA family, Carol, my fellow TOYA recipients, AIRen 😉 , Vibers, the mental health community, and yes, even your haunted-self Crowne Plaza… I simply say a humbled “thank you”. You have no idea how inspiring you all are and how much you make this world a better place.
Here’s to more joy, more understanding, and yes, more adventures sprinkled with a touch of ranch and mayonnaise!
Much love. Good vibes.