Youth journalists cover asset conference in Rochester, New York

By 8-18 Media

reporter-345126_640Nearly two thousand asset champions, including five hundred young people from across the nation, recently came together in Rochester (New York) for the eleventh annual Healthy Communities Healthy Youth Conference.
The three-day conference, hosted by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute, focused on ways to transform relationships between youth and adults for the common good.
Strategies for improvement focused on building the 40 Developmental Assets in youth to improve their lives and communities.
Assets are the internal and external building blocks that kids need to thrive, like restraint, family support and safety. The framework for identifying the individual assets was developed over a decade ago by the Search Institute.
During the conference the youth in attendance discussed what they do to build assets in their own communities and why assets are important.

Building assets
Seventeen-year-old Mary Zimmerman is a member of the assets team at Greece Athena High School in Rochester (New York). A team of about twenty students works to spread the assets throughout the school. She believes it’s important for youth to have assets.
“Studies have shown that youth who have more assets, it’s less likely they’ll do dangerous activities, and the more likely they’ll succeed,” she said. “So it’s important to have them because we want everybody to have a successful life.”
At the conference, Zimmerman and other youth attended workshops that were geared to motivate them to get active in their communities. She said she discovered that assets surround us wherever we may be.
“Basically, everything around you can be turned into an asset,” she said. “You don’t even realize that you’re doing it, but just reading for pleasure or hanging around with your friends, those are all assets and people don’t realize it.”
Overall, the conference had more than 1,700 attendees, youth and adults combined, from forty-four different states and five different countries. Four members of the Redding (California) Youth Action Council crossed the country to participate. Seventeen-year-old Jack Thibeau and the other members of the council also led a workshop at the conference.
“We presented on youth-friendly meeting agendas and basically we talked about the things that worked with youth about meetings—when, where, how to get youth involved, how to keep them involved, how to make them participate or keep them participating,” he said.
Thibeau said this year’s conference had more examples of relationships in action than the 2006 gathering.
“I went to last year’s conference, so compared to last year’s, this year’s had a more diverse group of people,” he said. “Last year had a little less interaction between people. This year began a lot more friendly, with a lot more people.”

Taking it home
Much of the conference was focused on attendees taking what they learned back to their local communities.
“Something I learned that I’m going to try to take back is a ‘youth-friendly’ business program, where you vote on what businesses (in your community) are youth friendly and they get a little sticker and certificate and it helps attract youth and get better business for them,” said Nick Rossow, seventeen, of Redding (California). “I like that idea.”
A unique way for attendees to network with others was through the Blue Ribbon activity. Everyone received two ribbons saying “Who I am Makes a Difference.” They could give a ribbon to someone who shared an inspiring story with them or to someone who makes a difference in their lives back home.
Callie Freze, sixteen, also of Redding, said the blue ribbons gave people a positive feeling.
“When they got a ribbon, it was like, ‘I really am making a difference,’” she said. “I thought that was a really cool way to meet people and to connect with people, and a really cool thing to take back.”
Since conference-goers came from many different areas, everyone was encouraged to meet as many new people as possible. The blue ribbons linked people, and also were a way of showing appreciation.
“I thought the blue ribbon was really cool because the first workshop I went to I didn’t know anybody,” said Rianna Curran, sixteen, of Redding. “This lady was really nice, and she was a really good person, so I gave her my blue ribbon because I didn’t know how to thank her enough. It showed my appreciation in a really cool way.”
Freze recommends the conference to other youth.
“I think every youth should go to the conference because [you come away] more willing to talk to other people because if I said ‘hi’ to someone randomly, they’d be like, “Did you know her?” and then walk away and get scared,” she said. “But at the conference, it was OK to do that, and you met so many people and saw so many different ways.”

Speaking out
A highlight for those in attendance was the variety of inspirational speakers at the daily assemblies. Two of the speakers included Tony Jordan, a retired NFL player who has come back to his hometown of Rochester to work with kids in his old neighborhood, and Ryan Hreljac, founder of the Ryan’s Well Foundation, which provides clean water for people in Africa and other countries.
Jordan is an example of an asset champion—someone who builds and instills assets in youth. Though he was introduced to the Developmental Assets in 2002, he’s been a strong asset builder throughout his entire life.
“I always built assets, but I didn’t formally call it that,” he said. “Then, when (I was) introduced to the program, it just blew me away and I fell in love with it.”
Jordan has started a youth sports foundation that raises money for coaches to learn about youth development and is constantly working with, and building assets in, young people.
“I do as many speaking engagements as I can,” he said. “I do some young men’s groups where I interact with young men in smaller groups where we do activities. If I see somebody that looks like they could use a pep talk I’ll throw one out at them if they let me.”
There are many reasons for kids to have assets.
“I believe it’s important for youth to have assets because those are the tools that help you deal with challenges and all the stuff that goes on in this world,” he said. “You have to have something to go to when things get tough.”
Meanwhile, Hreljac of Kemptville (Ontario) has been raising money to build wells in Africa and other developing countries since he was just six years old.
When he was in first grade, he discovered that people in other countries did not have access to clean drinking water and decided to do something about it. Hreljac did chores at home for four months to raise money to help construct a well.
“At first my parents didn’t believe me when I wanted to raise $70 to build a well, so they ignored me at first,” he said. “But now, along with the rest of my family, my brothers and my whole community, they play a major part in it.”
Now sixteen, Hreljac and Ryan’s Well Foundation have raised more than $2 million to bring clean drinking water to the world. He has helped more than 485,000 people in fourteen developing countries. Hreljac gave the conference attendees some advice.
“Start small, find something you’re passionate about, something you want to fix, and just follow through on that, and believe in your dreams and believe in your power to turn those dreams into reality,” said Hreljac.
Armed with inspiration, motivation, and new knowledge from the conference, youth and adults are back in their communities, spreading the assets and building relationships.
—8-18 Media

Editor’s Note: This story was written by Andrew LaCombe, 17; Chelsea Parrish, 16 and Megan Maas, 14. These three journalists participated in conference sessions and gave a presentation about 8-18 Media titled “Giving Kids a Voice: Stories from a Youth News Bureau.” The trip was made possible by scholarships from the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development. For more information on local asset building efforts, visit

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