A group of 14 Jefferson County high school students — all interns with the county’s public health department — got to meet with the nation’s leaders, and conduct research on youth drug use as …
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A group of 14 Jefferson County high school students — all interns with the county’s public health department — got to meet with the nation’s leaders, and conduct research on youth drug use as they attended the national Youth Leadership Initiative conference, Feb. 3-6.
The interns listened to conference speaker Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence, and took notes.
Directly after the presentation, the group got in line to get their books signed and by lunch, they’d organized a meeting with the author to discuss his views on preventing youth marijuana use.
“Our youth were respectful and curious. In some cases, they changed their mind and in other cases, they continued to respectfully disagree,” said Pamela Gould, coordinator of Communities that Care (CTC), the program through which the students attended the conference.
“It was absolutely inspiring to see youth asking smart questions and being really interested in different opinions,” she said.
The experience was just one of her favorites that occurred at this year’s Youth Leadership Initiative conference, organized by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). The first group from Jeffco’s CTC program attended the conference this year — the only attendees from Colorado — flew to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 2. The conference hosted several hundred participants from CADCA’s Youth Leadership Initiative, which works with individuals ages 13 through 20 to help young people affect change in their communities.
The Jeffco students are all research interns with CTC. The community effort has brought more than 100 stakeholders together from local organizations and businesses to find solutions to issues including substance abuse, relationship violence and hopelessness in youth.
The research conducted by the youth interns directly informs CTC strategies, including the online resource the organization recently created for parents, titled Twelve Talks to Have with Teens.
As an intern, “I get to give youth in the community a voice on topics that are not discussed and addressed when, in all reality, they really need to be,” said Melody Maendel, a junior at Green Mountain High School.
Because the youth internship program is funded through government grants, the interns spent some of their time in DC thanking their representatives for their commitment to funding the project, and highlighting the importance of continued funding.
“The best way to encourage young people to make social changes is by giving them a voice to express wants and concerns,” said Lola Peregoy, a Lakewood High School senior. “It is critical for teens to be included in conversations about current issues.”
The interns spoke with Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents the state’s 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Jefferson County. They also met with staff members from the offices of senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner.
“My favorite moment in D.C. was getting to go meet with these representatives and voice all the work we have done and will continue to do,” Maendel said. “I got to meet the representatives that I look up to and who make a change, just like us.”
Calling the meeting an “insightful conversation,” Perlmutter said he hopes “it is one of many to come” in a Jefferson County Public Health press release.
“We must do everything we can to support young people across Colorado, and it starts with learning and understanding their experience,” he said.
In addition to speaking with their representatives, students met hundreds of other teenagers from across the country, and experienced new opportunities they could have only had in the capital, Gould said.
“The students saw protestors, and we were in a senate office building while (senators) were voting on the impeachment,” she said. “It was really fascinating for them.”
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