Youth To Youth Conference provided positive peer pressure
KINGSTON — For four days, it was peer pressure aplenty for a select group of East Greenwich High School students late last month at the University of Rhode Island.
But not the kind of peer pressure that would warrant second thoughts or feelings of believing that something ominous would occur.
It was peer pressure in the form of making good life choices and pursuing their ultimate goals to the fullest extent without the need of having to take pills or roll joints.
A little over 40 students from the campus on Avenger Drive made the trek southward to the URI Kingston Campus to participate in the annual Youth To Youth Conference, a nationwide community-based drug prevention and youth leadership program that focuses primarily on students at both the middle-school and high-school levels.
The conference attracted close to 400 students from the eastern part of the United States, Ghana, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica for the four-day confab to share ideas and thoughts about staying on the right path in life.
“In some way, this is our Super Bowl,” said Bob Houghtaling, the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program who participated in his 24th Youth To Youth Conference. “It’s nice because it’s something the kids look forward to and it gives them a chance to meet other young people – and adults – from all over the country and elsewhere. Not only to just to connect and learn more about them, but also to recognize and see some of the ideas and strategies they might have come up with over time.”
“It’s been fab,” said East Greenwich High School student Jessie Donegan in describing the four-day extravaganza at URI. “I just love the energy here and everyone is so into everything. Everyone here has been real nice and I’ve enjoyed meeting new people.”
“We’re just surrounded by positive peer pressure,” said Samantha Rodriguez of East Greenwich. “The fact we’re surrounded by so many people who have the same set of values and to know that we’re not alone.”
The main goal for this past year’s Youth To Youth Conference, which was themed “Limitless,” focused on having the kids be limitless in what their potential might be, Houghtaling said, as well as being limitless in limitless to the connections they make in reinventing themselves, to some extent.
Houghtaling also said the conference dealt with a myriad of issues within the areas of social justice, leadership and diversity and the young minds who were in attendance from July 27 to July 30 heard an assortment of messages from many speakers about meeting challenges on a daily basis and thriving.
“In many ways, [the conference] a self-evaluation tool, because we’re now put into a mix with other people and we’re hearing some of the good things that they’re doing or hearing some of the ways they meet challenges and, boom, we can pick up some tips from them,” Houghtaling said. “On one hand, we try to provide them accurate information about a myriad of stuff, like substance abuse, diversity, how to handle friendships, how to handle some social concerns, respect for others. We gave them a lot of information on that. Our speakers are more on the upbeat, funny type. So they’ll deliver a message with a fun spin, but also be very poignant.”
Houghtaling was also working closely with Jayne Pawasauskas and Kelly Matson, two professors from the URI College of Pharmacy, during the Youth To Youth Conference in gaining a better understanding on how to find methods to further prevent prescription drug abuse in East Greenwich.
The conference included the opportunity for the students to break off into groups of 10 to 12 to have discussions about an array of topics so their points would be heard, as well as build strong bonds through friendships, which then turns the conference into a community, of sorts.
“It kind of becomes a home for a lot of us,” East Greenwich’s Gabby Granatiero said. “I’ve been coming to these for four years and I know a lot of people here. It’s hard leaving here after six days because it’s a no-judgment zone. Everyone loves you and it’s so easy to be yourself. You form a bond in just those short days and it becomes a second home.”
“I got to meet genuine good people and to know that I’m not judged by others,” East Greenwich’s Michael Sylvia added.
“We encourage kids to come here,” Houghtaling said. “Sometimes, this is the first time where kids have been away. This is the first time kids have met other kids from different communities. I think they’re exploring their limits and boundaries.”