Hundreds of young teenagers patiently waited outside a Bryant University dormitory Tuesday to hear the announcement that the 24th Eastern Youth to Youth Conference had begun. More than 400 registered participants were in store for a three-night stay filled with motivational classes, group outdoor activities and informational seminars on drug and alcohol prevention.
Founder of the Eastern Youth to Youth Conference, Bob Houltaling says the purpose of these conferences are to motivate teenagers, focusing primarily on middle school and high school students, to make positive decisions throughout their lives. The original national youth to youth conference was founded in Ohio in 1982 and Houltaling has been coordinating them on the East Coast for the past 28 years.
Inside the dormitory, staff members were kept busy making sure the registration process was complete for the hundreds of teens ready to pour into the building. Tables were lined with nametags and sign-up sheets for all of the mandatory skills and informational classes being offered. Hour-long sessions included a hug workshop, how to address bullying, positive and mental attitudes and safe zones.
“This is a really great way to get kids at a young age to start making good decisions,” said Rob Lindberg, who has been taking part in the youth leadership program since his involvement at East Greenwich High School.
“They start activities at 7 a.m. and don’t stop until 11 p.m.,” he said.
The staff ensures the groups are broken up between different communities rather than staying with just their friends. Lindberg says the point is to get everyone shuffled together with the objective to meet new people, taking him or her out of their comfort zone.
The conference costs roughly $400 to attend and some teens were awarded scholarships based on the combination of need and involvement. Also, multiple fundraisers were held to contribute to the various scholarships. The price includes housing and food for the three nights and four days.
In previous conferences, according to Houltaling, there has been up to 900 teenagers that attended, but he says they function best between 350 to 450 participants.
Houltaling said eclectic groups register for the event and “this year, 60 to 70 percent [participants] are traditional youth leaders who attend multiple conferences.”
Students from several states are taking part in this year’s conference, including Vermont, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. There were also teens from communities in Rhode Island like East Greenwich, Smithfield, Middletown and Warwick. Nearly 15 participants are from Warwick, attending Pilgrim High School and Aldrich Junior High School.
“Everyone is enthusiastic and makes us feel welcome,” Warwick resident Katelyn Medeiros said. “I’ve been looking forward to this and I enjoy meeting new people.”
The eastern conference has been held at other institutions throughout the state. Although Bryant University has been hosting it for the last 15 years, University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams University have also taken part in hosting the conference.
“This is like a Super Bowl celebration to the kids,” Houltaling said. “It is a culmination of what we do.”