On March 21st, the Vermont Youth Action Network (VYAN) held the 2nd Annual Regional Youth Summit at the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vermont. The participants were 25 young people and 18 adults from eleven towns in Windsor County. The event, sponsored by Ottauquechee Community Partnership, was organized by OCP’s Outreach Coordinator Biz Alessi with assistance from three OCP Interns from Woodstock Union High School. The goal for the Youth Summit was to bring together people from across generations to network and focus on creating positive social change and community action.
Seeking to empower all youth in the room through building leadership and dialogue skills, the opening activity was a World Cafe, in which questions were asked of youth about their experience, their needs, their interests and their concerns. Adults listened and reflected back to them what they heard. Using the information ‘mined’ from the World Cafe dialogue and fueled by youth energy, passion and imagination, four intergenerational teams developed and worked through the afternoon to create action plans around the most pressing needs identified by the youth.
Enthusiasm throughout the day for empowering youth leadership confirmed the need and interest in supporting the Vermont Youth Action Network, which is designed to train and support young people to empower other youth to create positive social change. Other action plans from the afternoon focused on creating more inclusive spaces in schools, creating a community-based youth activity advisory council and developing a more bike-friendly community. All of these require significant participation with community organizations and with school leadership. These organizations were well represented at the Summit, so action plans going forward stand a good chance of success.
One person said that the day “reinforced that youth really care about their community, the well-being of others and the world.” People reported that they liked “seeing the enthusiasm and awareness of these young leaders”, “everyone respectfully listening to each other”, “the intergenerational dialogue,” and “Getting to meet a ton of new people who shared ideas and with whom I could discuss future possibilities.” A few things participants reported they’d do differently as a result of what they learned at the Youth Summit included: “listening better” “I will speak up more” and “I will try to motivate my peers to be positive leaders in our school environment.”
Youth Summit coordinator Biz Alessi was inspired by the events of the day. “All voices matter, and it is crucial for youth and adults to work towards building community together. That happened here today,” she said. “An overall comment I heard at the end of the day is that people were leaving the Summit with a feeling of hopefulness.