The Conference Creates Community
By Gabe O’Brien
Growing up in rural Maine, I found that there were very few events that connected communities from around the state; the Maine Youth Leadership Conference, I believe, has helped in past years to bridge some of those gaps. In my youth, rarely did I feel I had access to opportunities that connected me to other people, activities, and events throughout Maine. One of these sparse, but deeply valued contact points, was the annual basketball tournament that happened every February. During the tournament, I got to expand existing connections and forge new ones. To this day, I occasionally look back through my Facebook Memories in February and see the new friends I made, the posts on my feed, or the messages I received, and I feel that connection all over again. Opportunities to gather, like the basketball tournament, continue to feel few and far between, especially as we navigate a post(ish) pandemic world. We continue to see the impact of isolation on communities, especially for young folks (LINK to Newscenter Maine). With the prolonged social isolation and the looming mental health challenges, the annual Youth Leadership Conference hosted by MYAN continues to be deeply important. The Youth Leadership Conference is one of the few times a year when I can connect, learn, and cultivate hope with my community from around Maine. Like a basketball gym, the hallways of the Collins Center live in my memory as a space for community when I needed it the most.
The Conference has felt special every year for the past five years I have attended. Each secures a unique place in my memory, encompassing my experience during the two-day event. These memories often include a moment during a training, workshop, or keynote session. However, as I recall YLC22, I am flooded by memories that, at the moment, felt insignificant; the sticky note a young person drew for me of a frog, recording a podcast on a phone, adults panicking while young folks eat lunch, and running the technology for a virtual adult training from a closet. The Conference’s success is often measured by metrics like the number of workshops or the notoriety of the keynote, and while this year we achieved on those measures, we also found a whole new kind of success that was hard to measure. It was hard to measure because how do you capture feelings of hope and connection? How do you quantify the side conversations between two young folks exchanging social media information? What about the elation of a young person who overcame their nerves to be interviewed about their water rights project for a podcast? Often when adults create success metrics, we mask young people’s true accomplishments. This year felt special because we finally realized being in community was success.
The Conference is special. And there are 363 other days when young people and their communities are looking to gather. Our work for the Conference is to expand the opportunities for people to be in space with each other. For example, after teams play in the Bangor auditorium and are greeted with escorts back home, they start looking forward to basketball camp over the summer at UMaine Orono, or they lead skill camps for the younger players in their community. Similarly, we can celebrate the young folks that participated in or presented at the youth leadership conference, provide options to attend the next gathering, or invite them to share what they learn with their home community.
Help us start this mission now; follow the link below if you would like to share a memory from last year’s conference! Or, if you are interested in learning more about the conference and want to get involved, leave your information and ask a question via the form below!
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