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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

By: Crystal Booker, Copywriter

For many teens, the days before the end of summer vacation are spent savoring sun-drenched memories and tying up last minute adventures with friends.  For Expanding the Reach teen youth groups in Anderson, Orangeburg and Aiken, end of summer reflections were put on pause as they dared to stretch their minds beyond themselves.  Instead of “What should I wear on the first day of school?”  the question became, “How can I use my voice to create change?”

The Keepers of Cool Teen Retreat brought together young people from the United Way of Anderson, Aiken Youth Empowerment, and OCAB Community Action Agency, Inc. with one goal in mind—preventing teen pregnancy.  The retreat was co-facilitated by the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Leading to Change, an innovative group training company out of Charlotte, North Carolina.  Held at White Oak Conference Center in Winnsboro, South Carolina, the three-day retreat was filled with laughter, tears, and powerful connections.

Dana Becker, SC Campaign Community Mobilization Coordinator, said the premise behind the name “Keepers of Cool” is simple.  “Young people set trends. Young people decide what’s cool.  When we as adults can help to empower young people to have a voice in their communities, youth can create positive change.”

Through a series of interactive exercises, young people were able to learn what it means to be a leader, how to use their personal stories to inspire, how social media can create action, and the importance of using evidence-based programs to get results.

LaDarius Mitchell of Aiken Youth Empowerment says learning these skills will help his group strengthen their community upon their return. “I want to see everybody together, strong, and bonded without any loose links.  I know it’s going to take a while.  I think teen pregnancy [prevention] is just one of the steps that we have to get to.”

Attendees were encouraged to share their personal journeys and how they connect to teen pregnancy prevention.  Their honesty and vulnerability was riveting and made for an open, safe environment.  “The most powerful part of the retreat is young people recognizing they have something to say, and being in a place where they feel comfortable enough saying it,” said Becker.  “Sometimes when we’ve got things in our life that we’re dealing with, it’s really difficult.  It takes a while before we’re comfortable ever sharing that with someone else, but once we start sharing it, it makes it much easier to share it moving forward and then move past it.”

The conference ended with attendees brainstorming new events and initiatives they would like to start in their own communities.  With a newfound voices and the tools to use them effectively, each teen has returned to their community ready to make a change.

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