Youth Summit lets local teens talk

Students from across Etowah County participated in Community Action of Etowah County’s 8th annual Youth Summit Sept. 22. The summit gave 7th through 12th graders a chance to talk about a number of topics of concern to young people today, ranging from mental health to money. Pictured above, after they were separated into age groups for discussion sessions, students gathered for lunch in the Gadsden State Community College cafeteria.Students from across Etowah County participated in Community Action of Etowah County’s 8th annual Youth Summit Sept. 22. The summit gave 7th through 12th graders a chance to talk about a number of topics of concern to young people today, ranging from mental health to money. Pictured above, after they were separated into age groups for discussion sessions, students gathered for lunch in the Gadsden State Community College cafeteria.

 By Donna Thornton/News Editor

When you think of a summit meeting, you likely think of leaders getting together to work out a solution to high-priority problems.

The Etowah County Youth Summit Sept. 22 brought together almost 200 young people from 7-12 grades to talk about the issues that have high priority in their lives.

The purpose was not so much to come up with solutions, but to give young people a chance to talk about issues like drugs and alcohol, school violence, sexual health, mental health, eating disorders, suicide, teen pregnancy and money.

Community Action of Etowah County has conducted the annual Youth Summit for eight years, Kristina Taylor of Community Action said.

School counselors and social service agencies were asked to select students to attend the summit representing their school.

However, when students arrived, Taylor said, they were placed into different groups – not more than one student from the same school in a group.

Taylor said the plan was to give students the freedom to talk about what they wanted.

“We wanted to say you can be goofy, and nobody’s going to go back to your school and say, ‘you won’t believe what Anna did,’” Taylor said.

“We wanted to give the students a chance to make new friends,” she said, and from comments heard after the summit, many did.

In addition to the sessions for young people, divided into 7th and 8th graders, 9th and 10th graders and 11th and 12th graders, the students’ parents were invited to participate in the “Parenting Project,” Taylor said. Community Action Secretary Gail Minshew facilitated the parenting project, Taylor said, which taught “everyday parenting skills” to help make life better between these children and parents on a daily basis.

About 15 or 20 parents participated in the Parenting Project, and Taylor said if things go according to plan, the summit won’t be the last time people hear of the Parenting Project.

“We want to build on that and have some kind of ongoing meetings at our office,” Taylor said. “We’re still working on that.”

The summit has grown each year, Taylor said, and it has changed over the years to keep the issues discussed with students relevant in their lives. This year, she said, the money session was added to the summit topics.

“What we want to do is to give the kids a chance to be heard,” she said, and in the setting provided, the people listening had specialized training in the topics under discussion.

“We also want to build leadership skills in these kids,” Taylor said.

Community Action staffers will review surveys completed by the students to evaluate the summit.

Also, group leaders will be recommending six to 10 students to become Community Action Youth Ambassadors.

The young people selected will have a role in deciding how often they meet and their activities. Those activities might include talking to the county sheriff about concerns that were brought out during the summit, Taylor said.

“We want them to try to be proactive,” she said.

A number of sponsors were involved in making the summit possible, from providing the space for the sessions to providing breakfast and lunch for the students.

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