By Michelle Xie, participant, The First Tee of Silicon Valley
I wanted to attend the Auntie Anne’s Leadership and Entrepreneurs Forum because I am constantly trying to improve my communication and leadership skills. I have always been introverted, and being a part of The First Tee for the past five years has allowed me to grow and express myself much more. Unlike the 2013 Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, the Auntie Anne’s Leadership Forum takes the main focus off of golf and mixes lectures, group activities, and fun in the parks to teach and connect high school students with each other and with representatives from Auntie Anne’s. What I loved most about being a part of the Forum is the connections I made. Of the 49 other participants, I knew none walking into the event. A week before the event started, I exchanged contact information with my future roommate, and we texted each other flight times and things we should remember to pack, forming a friendship. After arriving at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, where we all stayed, I was nervous about meeting the other participants. I met up with my roommate and two other girls she had met in the airport. While waiting outside of one of the other girl’s dorm, the door next to hers opened, and another girl joined in on our conversation. From sharing airport struggles to comparing our home states, the five of us struck up a conversation. In less than two hours, I had become close friends with four girls from four other states. Even at the welcome dinner, Okey Reese, Auntie Anne’s Vice President, Real Estate, who sat down with the five of us and listened to us excitedly talk to one another, asked, “So you all knew each other before this event?” We all looked at each other and said, “Nope!” and returned to our conversation. He looked at us as if he wasn’t sure if we were being sarcastic or not. I explained, “Over there is my roommate. She met those two on the bus ride from the airport, and she, well, just kind of walked out of her dorm.” Looking back, I’m still surprised that we clicked so well and so quickly. The First Tee doesn’t just bring teens from around the country together, but teens that have gone through the Life Skills Experience programs, giving us all a connection, allowing us to have a great time making new friends with other teens and the adult representatives from Auntie Anne’s. The six-module set-up of the educational part of the Forum included hands-on group activities, informational videos and lectures. Starting at the first welcome reception, groups of us created a one-minute commercial for a new golf product. On the second day, we were able to revisit our products and create a pitch to make pretzels. We learned about all the different types of venues and stores Auntie Anne’s could take, as well as what it took to be an Auntie Anne’s franchise partner. My biggest takeaway from the event is the value of perseverance. When Auntie Anne was just starting her business, she said, “I had to do what other people didn’t want to do.” Like the cherry on top, we had free time at the Disney and Universal Studio parks. This event truly shows that Disney (and Orlando) is the happiest place on earth.