December 22, 2022

Coalitions in Action – Partnering for Youth Empowerment

Partnering together for the third year, three Maine coalitions – Be the Influence, Westbrook Partners for Prevention and SoPo Unite – have created and successfully hosted their third Collective Impact Youth Summit, with the mission of building leadership and prevention skills that youth can bring back to their schools to make a positive impact. This one-day event connects 100+ high schoolers throughout the region to hear from keynote youth speakers, attend a variety of training sessions and network with their peers.

“Our first summit was back in 2018 with the goal of hosting it annually. Although we had to take a couple of years off due to Covid, we were very excited to start it up again this year,” explained Lee Anne Dodge, Program Director of SoPo Unite.

“Each time we begin planning for our next summit, we start by assessing what worked and what didn’t work in the previous year. What we really want is for kids to walk away with tools that they can plug in and implement in their own schools, as well as create a network and support system for everyone involved,” said Laura Morris, Project Director of Be the Influence Coalition.

In 2018, the summit focused primarily on training the youth in the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF). As time went on and they received feedback from their first event, the students shared that what they were most eager to learn about was mental health, stigma and coping skills, which was incorporated into the following year’s event. Building off of that, this year also covered leadership skills, using the arts in prevention and advocacy.

“What has stood out to me each time we’ve held our summits, is the behavior change you can see happening even within the span of a day. You’ll see students come in at the start, clearly feeling timid and shy, but by the end of it, they’re smiling, laughing and feeling very bonded with their peers. The most common feedback from our students is how cool it is for them to hear that a lot of other people feel the same way that they do. The discussions and content at the summit ultimately affirm that they are not alone, and that it is meaningful work to connect with one another,” added Lee Ann.

To make this summit a reality, many sectors come together to provide donations, offer up resources or give their time to present on relevant topics. “We have been really fortunate that for every summit we’ve done, we have gotten the space for free, gotten donations of pizza and even Panera provided us with breakfast. Essentially, each of our coalitions only spend money on the t-shirts – which shows that this can definitely be replicated in other communities without being too costly.”

“If you’re looking to host a similar event, know that your communities probably have the resources to help you with it. Reaching out to your community can be a great avenue for making new partnerships, and if you can get youth to help co-facilitate, pick topics and brainstorm, then it’s definitely doable and not too expensive,” said Laura.

“Overall, the outcomes can be really powerful. The summit in general is a great recruiting tool to get more youth involved, and more importantly, the youth leave feeling empowered that they can actually implement the strategies we covered, and not like they just spent a day eating pizza and talking about something that won’t amount to anything. So, I think the biggest takeaway is the emotional transition the students go through from the start of the day to the end of the day, and that they leave with connections to a bigger support system than they had before.”

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