Merced Youth to Youth Conference a huge success

MERCED – On April 1, Merced County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) Prevention Unit conducted its annual Youth to Youth (Y2Y) Conference and hosted a full-day of activities for 375 students from across the County.

The Y2Y conference is an annual event aimed at developing young people’s knowledge and offering support to reduce the likelihood of substance use. The conference is open to all 6th to 12th grade students within the County.

The conference began with local leaders providing words of encouragement to the youth. Throughout the entire day, local leaders and allies came to support the conference and volunteer. Having the students see the leaders of their communities support their development was very important. It gives them a sense of belonging to something bigger than just their homes or schools.

Community leaders included:

• Yvonnia Brown, MSW, BHRS Director
• Alice Liang, PhD, MPH, Assistant BHRS Director
• Daron McDaniel, Board of Supervisors Chairman
• Anthony Martinez, Merced City Council Member
• Iris Mojica de Tatum, Behavioral Health Board Chair
• Mike Murphy, Merced Mayor
• Eric Zuniga, CHP Officer
• Louise Farley, Senator Anthony Canella’s Office
• Misty Compton, District Attorney’s Office

The conference had 14 workshops that included both educational and fun topics for the youth to learn about. Workshops were provided by local organizations who provide services and activities that target youth. The conference was used as a platform to conduct workshops and engage youth who were not already involved with these activities.

Workshop providers included:

• Merced Atlas Soccer – Soccer Skills
• Delhi Aesthetic Dance Crew – Hip Hop Dance, Yvonnia Brown, Director
• Antonio Ramirez-Medina – Zumba
• Mid State CrossFit – CrossFit Workout
• Merced County Arts Council – Comic Book Creations
• Merced Art Hop – Watercolor Collage
• JCP Sephora – Mini Makeovers
• Mrs. Andrea Evans, El Capitan High School – Education Planning
• Merced County Sheriff’s Department – Marijuana Information
• Merced Organizing Project – What’s your Identity & Community Activism
• Sierra Vista – Dealing with Depressive Symptoms
• We’Ced Youth Media – How to Tell Your Story
• California Health Collaborative – Vaping: What’s the Cost
• Joaquin Vargas of Bryant Middle School – Tumbling

Each student was placed in a family group comprised of 15 of their peers. The groups were formed with students from various schools who had never met before. Throughout the day’s activities, students reconvened in their family groups and discussed their experiences around current teen issues, which were led by high school students. According to Christopher Jensen, Prevention Specialist, “One of the most powerful parts of Youth to Youth is to see these groups of strangers from all over the County come together as best friends by the end of the day.”

This year, the conference implemented an activity called “Walk to the Line,” in which statements describing hardships and traumatizing experiences were read aloud and youths who had dealt with such experiences walked to a designated line, signifying their struggles. As they walked across the line they were able to see other youths walk right alongside them, realizing that they are not alone. This activity allowed youths to share their story without having to say it out loud. It also allowed them to receive support. A powerful image that emerged reflected youths embracing one another and displaying the love sign even when they did not cross the line.

Supervisor Daron McDaniel joined in the opening festivities.

Christopher Jensen stated, “As I walked around the family groups after this activity, I heard the students opening up about the struggles they’ve had to deal with at home and at school. It empowered students to speak on things they previously felt no one else would understand. The high school students shared with us that this activity brought their entire group closer together and really made the event special!”

Merced County’s Y2Y Conference is now in its 24th year and generated the largest number of participants to date. There were more than 13,000 views of the conference on social media. In addition to the tremendous community support for this event, individuals who previously participated as a youth returned to dedicate their time as a volunteer. The Y2Y speaks to the lasting impact education, peer support, and peer engagement has on our youth and the community. We thank the students, parents, volunteers and schools for their support and making this event a success.