AUGUSTA — Hundreds of students on Thursday gathered at the Augusta Civic Center to learn how to make a difference in their communities.

The two-day Maine Youth Action Network’s Youth Leadership Summit, which wraps up Friday, is aimed at giving the nearly 300 students who attended the skills they need to bring about positive change.

“It’s about finding your voice and making an impact,” said Beth Yvonne, director of the action network.

The students, seventh- through 12th-graders from across the state, took part in workshops and presentations about a host of social issues, including tobacco and substance abuse prevention, prejudice, teen parenting and bullying, as well as a question-and-answer session with state legislators.

Yvonne said the workshops, many of which were led by students, are designed to give the attendees connections and leadership and advocacy skills they need to work with school and community leaders “to create lasting change on issues important to them.” Those skills include organizing groups, creating action plans, effective community decision-making and community outreach.

Molly Thibault, a junior at Boothbay Region High School in Lincoln County, has attended the leadership summit for a number of years and was one of several teens who helped organize the event. Thibault said the summit helps generate ideas for effecting change through interacting with other teens. Thibault has used what she learned at previous events to work with community leaders in her hometown to make the parks and beaches tobacco-free.

“The partnership between youth and adults is really empowering,” Thibault said.

Ally Noddin, a sophomore at Schenck High School in the Penobscot County town of East Millinocket, said what she learned at the summit was so valuable that she wanted to share it by putting on a scaled-down version at the middle school in her hometown. She worked with the school board and principal to organize the event.

“It was a lot of work,” she said.

Brooke Jandreau, a senior from Fort Kent Community High School in Aroostook County, has been to only two previous leadership summits, which she described as a late start. Still, Jandreau said, she has had the opportunity to put what she’s learned to use, including a role in organizing the conference.

The Maine Youth Action Network “has opened so many doors for me,” Jandreau said. “I get to speak here and empower all the youth.”

Jandreau said the network has taught her how to have conversations with community leaders so that the ideas she presents are taken as legitimate. “It’s really eye-opening to adults when the youth come and speak to them,” she said.

The teens have been invited to take part in a community group that includes police, game wardens and town officials that is tasked with addressing problems in towns.

“They ask to have us there because they want to hear what we have to say,” Jandreau said.

Jacob Bishopp, a junior at Boothbay Region High School, said the leadership skills he has learned at previous summits has dovetailed with his work with the Boy Scouts of America. He is working on programs for a healthy community, work that also is helping him become an Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest honor.

“I’ve taken the leadership skills I’ve learned here back to my hometown,” Bishopp said.

Thibault said she is anxious to take what she has learned and put it to use.

“It makes me really pumped up to go back to my community and share what I learned here,” she said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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