This group of middle schoolers from throughout the county sing during a fun activity designed to help them deal with peer pressure about drug and alcohol use—one of three sessions at the 2019 Allegan County Youth Summit. (Photo by Ryan Lewis)

Conference energizes middle schoolers about living substance-free

Ryan Lewis, Editor

The 2019 Allegan County Youth Summit gathered middle school students from the county’s public school districts Friday, May 3, to interact and reinforce living alcohol- and drug-free.

The student-planned event was again at the Gun Lake Tribe’s Jijak Foundation Camp near Hopkins and involved the tribe’s youth groups.

Fennville High School senior Clay Rosema said planning the event was always exciting. He has helped plan six events since his freshman year. This year’s event seemed better at involving the students.

“We mix it up every year, different sessions” he said. “A lot of times with middle schoolers it’s really hard. You want them to get into it, involved, talk—you know, get out of their comfort zone. It’s taken a couple years to find ways to do that. But I think they’re all coming out of their shell really nicely.

“This is probably my favorite one.”

The high schools’ Pro-Youth Teams, groups of student leaders who promote the same ideals living alcohol- and drug-free, planned this year’s conference, matching several high schoolers as squad leaders for small groups of middle schoolers. The squads rotated among three sessions throughout a morning, and the day was capped off with international speaker Ty Sell with Youth to Youth International, a drug prevention and youth leadership program.

Sell led one of the morning sessions, covering marijuana myths.

Plainwell High School senior Shanyn Jewell said another session—themed “What’s Your Escape?”—had each student group to visit several stations with different challenges, treasure-hunt-style.

“There are scenarios at each station, (presenting) a time in their lives when they might be faced with either substance abuse or conflict with a friend,” Shanyn said. “With their squad leaders, they discuss what’s the solution, how are they going to find an alternative or get out of that situation they might be uncomfortable in.”

After writing down their answers to that, they completed a fun challenge.

“So, for example, at one station they had to get a picture of everyone blowing a bubble at the same time,” she said. “They solve a riddle at another one. That kind of thing.”

Shanyn said the goal was to give students a memorable way to deal with uncomfortable situations.

“Whether it’s just to say their parent wants me to come home, or I have to go to practice,” she said. “But it’s making a game out of it.”

The final session shared cultural information about the Gun Lake Tribe.

Clay said the theme of this year’s conference was Living a Good Life—just as it was for a similar conference for high school students last April—which is translated from the Pottawatomie phrase “Mno Bmadzewen.”

Clay said, “So, in that one, we were learning about Native American culture, including the Grandfather Teachings. Which are kind of keys to everyday life.

“There’s trust, honesty, courage, respect, humility, love and wisdom; you carry them with you every day.”

For more information on youth substance abuse, visit

Contact Ryan Lewis at or (269) 673-5534.


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