By: Sayli S., Student at Yorktown High School
Last summer, I enjoyed one of the most amazing, eye opening experiences I have ever had. I met all types of people, stepped out of my comfort zone on multiple occasions, and — of course — learned so many new things that I am so excited to bring back to Yorktown, all in a safe, welcoming, drug-free environment.
On Thursday, July 28 early in the morning, my friend Roopa and I boarded the bus to Bryant University, the site of the Youth to Youth Eastern States Conference. We sat down amongst many other like-minded students from Westchester County. Both of us knew little about what to expect and were very eager to get started. As the bus pulled into the university, and we gathered our belongings we were immediately
welcomed by the energetic staff and volunteers characteristic of the conference. Positive energy radiated from all the staff as they offered us plenty of high fives and bright smiles. After signing up for workshops centered around drug prevention and leadership, Roopa and I dropped off our belongings in our dorms and hurried off to the opening ceremonies.
The opening ceremony was nothing short of a huge, exciting party. On stage, people danced and did handstands. Roopa and I were starting to get accustomed to the environment and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. After the ceremony ended, we split for the first time to go to our “family groups.” Because people from the same town are not usually in the same group together, this was the first time we would be separated. While I was a bit nervous, I was super excited to be able to meet new people.
Soon enough, the people in my family group would be, as the name implies, family. Through the four days, the twelve people, including myself, who were strangers at first, would soon become the closest of friends. We were very open with one another, sharing personal memories and thoughts. Everyone was so understanding and accepting, and we had such a fun time reflecting and playing together. Every meeting ended with a group hug, and everyone surely felt loved and accepted.
A major part of Conference were the guest speaker presentations. Each one brought inspiring anecdotes and messages of acceptance. They inspired me to look deeper into a person. In addition, they left me with a feeling of self confidence. Not only did the speakers inspire me to look for the best in others, they inspired me to look for the best in myself. This was truly special.
Towards the end at conference, members of the same town gathered into “Youth Action Groups.” Since there were only two representatives from Yorktown, me and Roopa, we got put into a group with representatives from Cortlandt Manor and Mt. Kisco. Here, we shared what drug prevention activities that were already in place in our schools. In addition, we planned and brainstormed new ideas to bring back with us. This was very important, as Roopa and I were actually able to implement some of these ideas in the high school.
Every night at Conference was a different activity, and there was surely something for everyone. The nights were filled with live music from a local rock band, outdoor laser tag, karaoke, inflatable hamster balls, basketball, swimming, volleyball, arts and crafts, and more. There was always something fun and intriguing to do in a safe environment.
One small, yet memorable part of conference were notes called “Warm and Fuzzies.” These were anonymous compliments that were posted on a bulletin boards that you could pick up whenever you were free. The notes were all so sweet and made me feel genuinely happy and good about myself. Due to the anonymous nature of them, you never found out who wrote the note, but it was great knowing that there was someone out there who appreciated something you have done.
The final night was a big dance party. The DJ played great music, the rotunda was lit up in colorful lights, and everyone dressed up to represent their favorite decade. It was an amazing time. By the time closing ceremonies came around, I did not want to leave. I was having such a fun time! At the last Family Group meeting, we left each other with positive messages and tied yarn around our wrists, almost like a friendship bracelet. I will never forget this.
The Youth to Youth Conference helped me connect to people who shared similar values to mine. I still keep in contact with these people today, and seriously consider them close friends, even family. I got the opportunity to be independent, as we were only given a schedule and were expected to make it to each event pretty much on our own. I learned new things about the dangers of drugs, and came up with new ways to spread the anti-abuse message in our town. I was inspired by the motivational speakers, and learned the value of acceptance and spreading positivity.
Most importantly, I had such a fun time. I made so many unforgettable memories, from solving challenges in my family group to playing outdoor laser tag with Roopa. As we took the bus back home, I reflected on this amazing journey and felt extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this amazing conference.
Note: The Alliance for Safe Kids sponsored this experience for both students.