Over 1,400 Kent County teens poured into the DeVos Convention Place on Friday, May 6 for the Fifth Annual Above the Influence-Kent County Youth Summit, a day filled with high energy, interactive activities that encourage teens to live above the negative influences around them. The summit is a “youth-led, adult facilitated” non-traditional learning experience, powered by the Kent County Prevention Coalition (KCPC) and network180, and sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Middle and high school students participated in high-energy “Be a Hero”-themed workshops, dance-offs, and activities meant to inspire, engage, and empower them to combat their generation’s most prevalent negative influences. To ensure that these activities would be fun and relevant for the students, the Youth Coalition planned and designed these activities based on the popular interests and trends among today’s teens. High school senior and member of the Youth Coalition, Nick Igmatoski, explained that the group would brainstorm to “see what are the ‘hot topics’ with the people around us.” The student leaders as well as the adult staff stress that the Youth Summit is not just about preventing drug and alcohol use. “It is about making the right decisions in all parts of your life,” says Denise Herbert of network180. Today’s teens face pressures from all aspects of their lives including bullying, suicide, low self-worth, unhealthy lifestyles, and more. Michele Stitt of KCPC says that anyone can overcome these pressures because “wherever you come from, you can be a hero by encouraging, promoting, and inspiring others.” The students were able to learn about the success of an Above the Influence lifestyle through keynote speaker Dr. Eric Thomas, who spoke of overcoming homelessness and other obstacles to eventually earn his Ph.D. He reassured the students that overcoming negativity will not always be easy. He advised, “When you make a mistake, don’t make excuses, make adjustments.” The impact of the Above the Influence-Kent County Youth Summit not only reaches the students who were able to attend the event, but also every teen in the area. The Grand Rapids Mayor’s Office proclaimed the first Friday of May as the official day for Above the Influence. Youth Summit leaders and volunteers want the students to take what they learned and use it to “be a superhero” in their everyday lives. Youth Coalition member Kya Stitt hopes her peers “follow their own values, even if they are not the same as their friends’ values.” Igmatoski hopes his peers will use what they learned “to make changes for our future. We are the future, so we need to make positive changes for our future.” Check out the Above the Influence-Kent County and the ATI-Kent County Youth Summit page here for more information. You can also visit the Kent County Prevention Coalition page for ways to get involved.
Photo credit: Above the Influence (main), Katrina Danko (gallery)