Middle and high school students storm GVSU
Annual youth summit demonstrates living above the influence
Salvador Lopez, a member of the admissions department at Grand Valley State, answers any questions that these young student attending Kent County’s Above The Influence Summit may have. Over 1,000 students, middle-school to high-school age, roamed Grand Valley’s campus visiting workshops and stations that promoted wise decisions and healthy living.
On May 2, 952 local Generation Y and Generation Z students attended the Kent County Prevention Coalition’s third annual Above the Influence-Kent County Youth Summit on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus.
Organizer Michele Stitt said that the main objective of the conference is to teach youth about living above the influence in a way that speaks to them.
“Everything that we have done today has been geared towards being fun, but all in the name of substance abuse prevention,” Stitt said.
Stitt is the artistic director of the KCPC, a team of 30 local member organizations that work to build a healthier community in West Michigan by preventing and reducing harmful substance use behaviors, especially in youth.
Although the actual KCPC has only three staff members, an event as big as the summit was possible, Stitt said, with the help of the member organizations and some local youth volunteers.
“In today’s society, it is really hard for kids to be kids. There are a lot of influences that can really mess a life up early,” said 18-year-old Mehdi Mohammad-Ali.
Mohammed-Ali is a member of the KCPC’s Dream Team, a group of sixth through 12th grade students that helped “dream” ideas for this year’s summit.
The Dream Team met every few weeks for several months before the conference to come up with ideas to make the different activities exciting and inspiring for youth.
“I just want to help kids overcome outside influences and know that they are not alone,” Mohammed-Ali said.
Lauren Stitt, a 14-year-old member of the Dream Team said that she also likes helping with the KCPC for the sake of others.
“I like going to the Dream Team meetings, not necessarily to help me, but to see how other people could use help,” she said.
The conference featured six different workshops that the students could attend, based on their age and preference.
The workshops included topics such as Relationships 101 and were lead by members of the community who have made the decision to live above the influence.
“(The speakers) have made it in life and they want to inspire others to do the same,” Mohammed-Ali said.
Students were grouped by age for the workshops in order to help them get to know other students that might have something in common with them.
“We have urban, suburban and rural kids coming together to converge here to be able to enjoy the day and inspire one another towards living above the influence,” Michele Stitt said.
She added that her favorite thing about the summit is bringing together students from different backgrounds.
“I think that the summit is cool because we’re intentional about bringing together sixth through 12th graders that span all sorts of demographics and socio-economic backgrounds,” Stitt said.
The first year the summit was held, it was in the DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids and the second year it was moved to GVSU’s Allendale Campus in the Kirkhof Center. This year, the summit “outgrew” the Kirkhof Center and was held primarily in the Kelly Family Sports Center, with workshops held in the Kirkhof Center, Louis Armstrong Theater and the Cook-Dewitt Building.
Along with the workshops, the summit also featured an Above The Influence tailgate with an “I want to get involved” resource fair. The tailgate gave students more information about different youth serving organizations in West Michigan, such as the Girl Scouts, that students might not know about, but may be interested in joining.