Hot on the heels of the first Youth Summit held in April 2019, planning for a second summit – part of a goal to have at least three such summits over the next school year – began in early October. Although there were initial plans involve youth representatives from several high schools in Tompkins County that had participated in the first summit, logistics and travel proved difficult to overcome. The eventual planning group coalesced around two youth representatives from the New Roots School in Ithaca, supported by members of the Cradle to Career network. Integrating participant feedback from the first summit which covered three topics (mental health, suicide, and drugs) planners decided that this second summit would focus on a single topic: anxiety. Anxiety was selected not only because “there’s a lot to be anxious about today,” with stressors not only at the individual and community level but national and global level. Additionally, the youth planners felt that anxiety was a common factor feeding into both drug use and self-harm.
A peer-lead approach was also selected for this second summit, with the hope that this might increase interactions and connections between youth participants. Short YouTube videos used to introduce the topic questions instead of subject matter experts. The 20-minute discussion periods, presented in a Community Café style, took participants through the arc of discussing the signs, symptoms, and experiences of anxiety; coping strategies, with a distinction between “healthy” and “unhealthy” coping methods; and finally, a lengthy discussion of existing community resources available to help teens cope with anxiety and its consequences, highlighting gaps and potential ways that these resources might be improved.
On a windy Saturday (December 14th), a small group of teens gathered in the gallery space at the Tompkins Center for History and Culture. Transportation to Ithaca from the outlying communities proved to be a considerable barrier to participation – with the exception of the youth facilitator (Genevieve Chase, New Roots School) the youth in attendance were all students from Ithaca High School. Despite the low turnout, fueled by a steady supply of snacks and food provided by Cradle to Career, and Genevieve’s skillful facilitation, these students were coaxed into engaging in three hours of rich discussions about what causes them anxiety and how they cope. Their worries focused on day-to-day struggles such as: meeting new people, public speaking, and feeling judged. There was a lengthy discussion of how in-school support systems are inadequate and leaves teens feeling inadequately supported by adults at their school and a pervasive feeling that “…administrators don’t care.”
As with the first youth summit, youth appeared to have valued the opportunity to connect with their peers in frank discussions about mental health, but recognizing the need to have different perspectives and experiences (besides IHS) represented and shared. For this reason, the organizing committee has decided to more aggressively spread the word about the Youth Summit and will repeat the December agenda on February 8th, 2020, 12:30 to 4:00 PM at the Tompkins Center for History and Culture. Registration for high school-age teens to attend the summit is open and available here.
If you are interested in joining the planning group or have any questions, please contact Collective Impact backbone staff at [email protected].