“When I say Youth, you say Power!”
My peers joyfully shouted. And thus began my experience at the University of Youth Power.
What is Youth Power? Well it’s a four day event held at the college of Saint Rose in Albany NY, that brings youth (age 18 through late 20s) together for 4 days of “classes”. All youth attending have been through various systems (ex: foster, mental health, justice, etc.) or have other adversities. The goal is to learn as much as you can, so that when coupled with your own experience you can become a Youth Advocate for those in similar situations that you used to be and support them, either through by helping the navigate the systems and know their rights or through trauma informed care and peer support.
When you first sign up you get to choose a “major”, Peer Advocacy or Systems Advocacy. Since I choose the Peer track, my story will focus on this one, but I was told that the other one is really great too. Anyways, I carpooled with two of the board members up there and one of them turned out to be my roommates. And we were in very nice dorm/apartment rooms with 4 basic bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a nice basic kitchen..not that we used it because all meals where provided.
After registration, and receiving complimentary bags, greatly appreciated umbrellas, nice bottles and a handy handbook.. seriously that was super useful… lunch was handed out. The rest of the day was orientation for Youth Power in general where a very excited president taught us the chant and orientation for our specific tracks. In the Peer Advocacy major we heard some amazing experiences from the panel.
Over the next three days in my classes I learned about rights in the foster care system, using technology and social media in work and taking about were to draw the line, special needs in school and making sure that you can understand programs like the IEP (Individualized Education Program) so that you’re not being takin’ advantage of. And addiction recovery, where I heard a great perspective on drugs and the self medicating. all the classes were really engaging and overflowing with information and someone always had great -err, well usually sad, but insightful, stories to tell. Though the class that stuck with me the most was Trauma Informed Peer Support, a very heavy two part class where I heard amazing stories, learned about trauma, self help, and how to be there for someone who has been through trauma.
So since there’s a lot of heavy stuff to process, everyday there would be 4 activities to break the flow, chill, relax and get to know people and make connections. There was two choices in the noon and one or two in the evening that was aimed at those staying in the dorms. And you picked between the options.. so for example you could participate in a Scavenger Hunt or attend the Open Youth Power Board Meeting. I choose the scavenger hunt since I missed the campus tour and it helped me figure out where everything was. And latter there Breath Body Mind Techniques or Turning Our Pain into Power. I really like these classes too, and in ones like Artivism I learned how you can advocate and support in different ways and also got to listened to Hip Hop. There was also a Student Fair with simple fun games, ranging from board games to who can stack pennies the fastest with one hand and information tables from NY state organizations. Though the most memorable was the Paint and Sip with Mock-tails and Karaoke.
And with all these activities and classes, I also was getting my thoughts together for the big Leaders Dinner, which is the event of the University of Youth Power. At this formal dinner we, as Youth Advocates, get to sit at tables with State Officials and discuss, bring up concerns or give ideas about the systems we have experience in. I was pretty intimidated, but it all worked out and they were really nice and easy to talk to. Boy am I glad that they liked to talk a lot.
Plus everyone attending is so amazing! These guys have often been to hell and back and some now are presidents of organizations or have other important positions! I couldn’t help but feel inspired. And as it closed out on the last day I was surprised that there was a “real” graduation with caps and the Youth Power tees they gave us.
As it ended there was goodbyes, signing of books and exchanging of numbers. And while I watched the hustling crowd of excited faces, I could feel the collective excitement to use this experience to empower those who are still finding there way.
Want to learn more? Check Youth Power out here.