This week, New Hampshire Teen Institute (TI) is running their signature Summer Leadership Program, a dynamic residential week of leadership development, self-discovery, and social connection for 50+ high school students from across New England.

The day before youth participants take all of the new leadership skills gained from this outstanding program and rejoin their home communities, coalition representatives from the regions the youth reside are invited to visit TI’s Summer Program, where the youth are divided into groups from their respective regions. During this workshop session, the youth, TI staff, and coalition representatives work on plans to bring back to their community to create positive change they would like to see for healthier places to live for themselves, their high schools, and their peers.

The Greater Manchester Region worked on creating lists of the strengths and challenges that the region faces as it pertains to youth. The youth in our regional group highlighted challenges such as: drug and alcohol use, with an emphasis on heroin; homelessness; bullying in schools, and lack of inclusion for students facing mental health and/or physical challenges. Strengths highlighted included community events, good organizations for children/teens (for example community coalitions and the Boys & Girls Club), good job opportunities for teens, and positive extracurricular activities such as school clubs and sports.

From there, our regional group created a wishlist — what the youth would like to see in our region to make it a healthier place for teens to thrive. This wishlist included: more SAP’s in schools, more safe hangout spaces for teens, better workshops & training for teachers for bullying prevention and intervention; a system for schools to be better able to respond to cyber bullying; more support for homeless youth; fairs for youth focused on volunteer opportunities in the region; and better mental health awareness, knowledge, and information for both students and educators to eradicate stigma.

Taking the ideas created from their wishlist, students worked on large paper to do some community mapping. Their map incorporated their wishlist to show their vision of a healthier, more vibrant region for the teens and their peers. This workshop is an important part of the Teen Institute Summer Program experience as it takes their newly formed leadership styles and development and helps them to see how they can apply what they have learned when they return home, in a tangible way to begin to create positive change locally. We ended the session with the coalition leaders discussing local resources as they applied to the issues that were most important to the teens, and ways they can get started right away in creating safer and healthier communities where they live.