LENOX, Mass. -- Up to 120 teen-agers will gather for the day on Wed., April 11 at Shakespeare & Co.'s campus in Lenox to hash over the pros and cons of living in Berkshire County and how problems might be fixed, organizers say.
"We're creating a totally unique opportunity for students from across the county to come together to share their hopes, frustrations, passions and concerns as teen-agers specifically in Berkshire County," says Kate Merrigan, a co-convener of the "Berkshire Youth Development Conference" -- nicknamed "411 in the 413". A team of four high-school students, joined by adult collaborators, planned the 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. program, which will include an opening keynote talk by freshman state Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, followed by three 75-minute workshops on 16 topics selected by student planners.
Funding for the free event is from the state Dept. of Public Health through the Berkshire Youth Development Project. Key collaborating organizations are the Railroad Street Youth Project, in Great Barrington, and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, in North Adams. Merrigan is NBCC's UNITY program coordinator. UNITY stands for "united neighborhood interdependent trusted youth."
Merrigan, 27, (413-663-7588) grew up in North Adams, was graduated from Marlboro College and worked for Tapestry Health before joining NBCC a couple of years ago. Her own recollections of growing up in the region are contributing to the topics to be discussed. "It's about what is great and what isn't about growing up here, and thinking about changing those things that they want to change," she says of participants.
To select participants, Merrigan, Dahlia Bousaid (413-528-2475) of the Great Barrington project, and other organizers sent letters to high-school superintendents asking them to pick approximately two students from each grade 9-12, including, as the letter suggested, some youth who are not always in leadership roles. The students will get excused absenses from school for the day, and will be treated to continental breakfast and a box lunch while at Shakespeare & Co.'s campus. The event's overall coordinator is Rudi Bach at Railroad Street Youth Project (413-528-2475). Also supporting the event is the Berkshire United Way's Marya LaRoche.
Student coordinators include Jen Kodela of Mount Greylock Regional High School, in Williamstown; Ashleigh Carr of Monument Mountain High School, in Great Barrington; Chris Tassone of Pittsfield High School, and Jeanna Tinne of Charles H. McCann Technical School, in North Adams.
Workshop topics planned include these titles: Life after high school, diversity: moving beyond tolerance, art as a tool for empowerment/social change, healthy relationships, what to expect in college relationships, nutrition with a twist, coping with depression, how media exploit youth, media violence, youth involvement with the United Nations, stress management/alternative medicine/yoga, dealing with divorce, environmental issues/activism, how to create change in your community and discussion of hot political topics.
(Photos above, right, Jen Kodela taken by Gina Ianitelli, left, Kate Merrigan, supplied)