Dynamic teen conference teaches self-discovery, leadership and positivity

Pass it Along introduces itself to motivated youth

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  • A group of teens learn about leadership, self-discovery and serving the community at the Pass It Along Youth Leadership Conference. The segment was about Gender and Inclusion and was instructed by Deanna Assad. Photos by laurie Gordon

  • Tim Jackson instructs a break out group about team building

  • Grace Sander (center) introduced the conference to start the day. Teens involved in organizing the event wore tie dye shirts. Sander is surrounded by Valeria Molina and Kelsi Loewen. All three are juniors at Sparta High School.

  • Pass It Along's founder, Diane Taylor, instructs a group about Self Awareness and Discovery.

By Laurie Gordon

— Pass It Along is the catalyst and the teens it helps are the very positive reactors. The 17th Annual Youth Leadership Conference, held last Thursday at the Sussex County Community College auditorium, was one example of how the organization helps kids harness motivation over mediocrity, embrace the community, take action and perpetuate volunteerism. The teens at the summit are not couch potatoes: they're movers and shakers and that's why they were selected by their various schools to participate.

This teen-organized and teen-led conference included 150 students from various local high schools with the intent of educating high school students about self-discovery, leadership and serving within their community. The conference ran from 8 am to 2 pm and educated high school students about self-discovery, leadership and serving within their community. Schools in attendance will include Newton High School, Sparta High School, High Point Regional High School, Sussex County Technical School, Walkill Valley Regional High School, Kittatinny Regional High School, North Warren High School and Blair Academy.

Kittatinny principal Brian Bosworth and assistant principal, Robert Black, felt it was important to go to the conference and see what the students were doing.

Bosworh said, “We stress leadership at Kittatinny and we are always looking for ways to challenge our students to become leaders. The Pass It Along Youth Leadership Conference allows our students to work with their peers from around the county and develop those skills that are so vital for them to be successful. This event falls right in line with our mission to provide our students with opportunities to grow.” He added, “The best part of our job as school administrators is to see students thrive in different environments. Watching our Kittatinny students take part in the various workshops and sharing their experiences with others is such a large part of the educational process. An event like this is an extension of the classroom, so we are excited that our students can be a part of it.”

Teens met in “family groups” mixed with students from other schools, attend workshops and will create service projects to bring back to their community. The entire day was organized and run by a group of 32 Pass It Along teens titled the Youth Leadership Conference Committee (YLCC). This group, which begins meeting in July, is responsible for creating the introduction, finding speakers to run workshops, designing their family groups to help with team building and self-discovery, marketing and more. The YLCC is comprised of teens who have participated in a Pass It Along program and are selected as leaders of the community, including teens from area high schools. Finding a meeting space big enough to accommodate the YLCC was not an issue thanks to the generosity of ThorLabs which provided one of their facilities for the planning months and are the Presenting Sponsor of the event.

Kathy Rathbone is Pass It Along's Director of Annual Events and Clubs. She said, “There's nothing like this conference. It's teen created and driven each year.” Rathbone added, “This year, the teens are learning team building skills, meditation, self awareness and discovery, 'Got U Covered,' a grassroots program that collects toiletries and other needs for the homeless, and gender and inclusion.”

Grace Sander, a junior at Sparta High School, got up in front of the entire group and did the introduction. Sander is very vested in Pass It Along and said, “Pass It Along and SCARC are very dear to my heart and it's great to be doing what I can to be involved in these organizations.” Sander plans to either pursue a career in marketing or start her own non-profit. “Diane Taylor (Pass It Along's founder) has been a huge positive influence on me,” she said. Sander also said her lifelong dream is to be on The Today Show.

Valerie Molina, also a junior from Sparta said, “This is a day to really find yourself. It's a chance to meet new people and see that you are not alone. It”s a chance to come together and do positive things.”

Jaida White is a senior at Wallkill Valley Regional High School and said, “This conference and Pass It Along in general has inspired me to do something in this world. There is so much negativity.” White, who aspirest to go into communications or public relations, is hoping to get into the University of Deleware. She summed up the conference, “Today we are learning how to fight against negativity and be powerful and positive people.”

The event would not have been possible without generous support from Thor Labs, Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey and Brazill Brothers & Associates.

About Pass It Along

Pass It Along is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in Sparta, N.J. Pass It Along's mission is to build confident, resilient, compassionate teenagers through self-discovery, volunteer and leadership opportunities. By participating in the Pass It Along program, teenagers gain a strong sense of self, learn about the positive effects of helping others and are equipped to avoid risky behaviors. For more information and to view all of our programs we have to offer, please visit www.passitalong.org.

Through this annual conference and all of the many events and programs it encompasses, Pass It Along truly helps teens become exposed to new things that help them develop their own sense of purpose.

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