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Empowering Students to Make a Positive Change

Portage County students learned how to make a positive change in their schools and communities during a Youth Leadership Summit hosted by Townhall II and the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. The event was facilitated by Joe Markiewicz, a national youth trainer.

Portage County Commissioner Mike Tinlin greeted the students and offered words of encouragement as they began their day. After starting with off with a fun team-building ice breaker, the group talked about problem behaviors and concerns in their schools. Overall, their top concerns were mental health problems, vaping, cyber bullying, and alcohol use.

The students spent time learning about protective factors that help buffer youth from risk. Markiewicz shared a list of 40 research-based, positive experiences and qualities that are building blocks for healthy development such as adult role models, school engagement, creative activities, faith community, and service to others.

The students spent the rest of the day creating action plans to increase the protective factors to bring back to their schools for implementation. To help keep the students on track implementing their action plans, Townhall II will send a Youth-Led Prevention Specialist to meet with the students in their schools this spring.

“The Youth Leadership Summit was such a rewarding experience for our students,” said Ravenna High School Principal Jonathan Lane. “Our student leaders were exposed to the issues that face our schools and our communities and were then challenged to brainstorm solutions to these problems. Our students identified a couple of key areas they would like their future work to focus upon. We have already met as a group following the summit to put our plans into action.”

High school and middle school students from Aurora, BioMed, Kent, Ravenna, Rootstown, and Streetsboro participated.

“Youth-led prevention strategies are an important component of prevention for young adults as it empowers youth by giving them a voice in the process while still having adult guidance,” said John Garrity, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board. “It is an evidence-based model that has been shown to reduce risk factors among youth.”

This was the second youth summit Portage County has held since 2020, and Townhall II Director of Prevention and Outreach Sarah McCully plans to make it an annual event. “We had to halt the program because of the pandemic,” she explained. “It is such a positive and rewarding experience for the youth.”


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