Allegan, Barry Youth Summit Empowers Teens to Lead Positive Lives

"Being a part of something that can make a difference, as well as getting to know new, positive, incredible people in a warm, welcoming environment is truly amazing," said Brittany Buehler, a junior at Thornapple Kellogg High School.

The theme of the summit this year was "Empowering Ourselves to Empower Others." The goal is to help youth promote positive behaviors  and actions to prevent risky behaviors such as underage drinking, bullying and other issues teens face.

The Barry County Substance Abuse Task Force and its Youth Leadership work group along with the Allegan Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and their Pro Youth Team, hosted the event at the Gun Lake Community Church.  Liz Lenz, Barry County SATF coordinator, said it was a great day and lots of fun to see the students from different high schools put aside their differences and work together.

"It's the kids who want to keep doing this. They get to drive the bus on this. They organize it to be what they want it to be," said Lenz.

Nikki Barth, substance abuse specialist with Allegan County, said she likes getting students from the two counties together. "We get kids who are very positive and have great attitudes. It's fun watching them," she said.

Teens spent the day mainly in small group sessions where they interacted, listened to guest speakers, and asked questions of each other.  "It's about using motivation and inspiration to motivate yourself and do things in your own life that are good. Then you can do things for others," said TK senior Carley Dole.

TK teacher Lyndsey Fischer said the summit is worthwhile for the students. "I love having all the schools here. It's a great way for them to be together and not have the school rivalries. The student council members are so excited about this," she said.

Students came from Hastings, Thornapple Kellogg, Delton Kellogg, Lakewood, Maple Valley, Allegan, Fennville, Martin, Otsego, Plainwell, Saugatuck and Wayland.

At the end of the day, they gathered  for a final session together where they were reminded to be positive,  empower others to do good things, be calm, be kind,  and be outgoing. They were also reminded that change doesn’t happen overnight and that it starts with one step daily. 

"It's important and it works because it's youths talking with other youths. It's not just adults preaching to us all the time," said Delton Kellogg High School student Terra Fox.  "It's important for me to learn to better myself first and then I can help better others."

"I've loved meeting so many new,  dedicated friends throughout planning the summit," said Makenzie Sturman and Allegan High School senior.

"We all had the same goal in the end. We all came together and it was all about being open and positive," said Jacob  Emery from TK.

"Kindness is contagious," said Rachel Chapman of TK. "It was a great day."