Eight high school students from Washington County were chosen to present at the 2022 CADCA National Leadership Forum, a four-day workshop that connects a nationwide network of youth leaders and allies from across the U.S. Pictured are front, from left, MacKenzie Schors, Roy Duffy, Joey McGlaughlin, and Ari Spencer. Middle,Ellie Claverie, Chloe Mankin, Edge Venuti, and Landen Farrell. Back, Corrie Hunkler. Courtesy of Sara McConnell

A group of local teens made their voices heard at the national level earlier this month. Eight high school students from Washington County were chosen to present at the 2022 CADCA National Leadership Forum, a four-day workshop that connects a nationwide network of youth leaders and allies from across the U.S. 

CADCA’s Forum is the premier and largest training event for community-based substance use and misuse prevention leaders in the country, and provides innovative tools and strategies to support participants and inspire youth in their prevention and leadership work at the local level. This year’s event, which ran from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, took place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, located just outside of Washington, D.C.

The youth representing Washington County were invited to facilitate a leadership workshop and share their experiences with Gateway to Opportunity (G2O), a work-based learning program offered through the The Opportunity Alliance and Maine Youth Action Network (MYAN) that helps youth ages 16-18 gain critical career readiness skills and competencies during the summer months through paid internships with community-serving organizations selected by MYAN to serve as partner host sites. The youth also shared highlights from their additional experience serving as student staff at Healthy Acadia’s 2021 DownEast Teen Leadership Camp. 

Healthy Acadia’s Sara McConnell, partnerships for success coordinator, and Corrie Hunkler, youth engagement coordinator, who serve as Downeast Teen Leadership Camp’s Directors and mentored the group during their G20 experience, accompanied the youth, and were continuously wowed by their individual and collective passion and poise. 

This was the first time that a group of youth from Washington County attended the Forum, now in its 32nd year. The eight teens worked alongside Healthy Acadia throughout late fall and early winter of 2021 to raise funds in their local communities in order to cover the costs to attend the Forum.

Throughout the event, the youth took full advantage of the various interactive workshops focused on substance prevention and community leadership skill-building..

“I met so many incredible people my age from around the country with similar values and goals as me which was truly inspiring,” said Ellie Claverie, a junior at Washington Academy. “My favorite part of the conference was when we presented about the Gateway 2 Opportunity program that I was a part of over the summer. 

After the presentation, many of the adults who had attended the workshop approached us and asked how they could create a similar program in their own cities or communities.  This for me was super rewarding because by presenting my story I may have helped create more paid job opportunities for youth in different parts of the country!”

On Capitol Hill day, the youth had an opportunity to talk with U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, as well as Representative Jared Golden and share their thoughts and concerns about public health issues important to them, including climate change, gender equality, and other key public health issues impacting our communities and our state.

“We … brought up important issues,” said Edgelynn Venuti, an 11th grade student at Washington Academy. “This was a unique experience because, 1) It is pretty rare for people my age to be able to do that, and 2) Feel accomplished and actually make a difference. The conversations we had were worthwhile and I’m so glad I got to participate.”

“I am so grateful to have had the privilege to join such inspiring and courageous young leaders at the CADCA youth leadership forum this year,” said 18-year-old Chloe Mankin of Cherryfield, who served as G20 Youth Team Leader.  “I am leaving this experience feeling incredibly inspired, motivated, and pushed to continue this great work. The memories I have made during this trip will stay with me forever, and I know the same is true for the other members of my team as well!”

“The presentation that we did about G2O was a huge success,” said Venuti. “I feel as though we truly inspired the people who attended and we definitely made a lot more connections.” 

The group didn’t miss the opportunity to spend a full day exploring downtown Washington, D.C., to take in some incredible and inspiring exhibits at the Smithsonian, enjoy great food, and visit several of our national monuments.

Healthy Acadia joins this group of youth in sending a huge thank you to the Washington County community for helping to raise the funds needed to attend the CADCA Youth Leadership Forum. “We are extremely grateful for this unforgettable experience and for the opportunity to witness these inspiring youth who are making a real and positive impact at the local and national level,” said McConnell.

Healthy Acadia is a 501(C)(3) community health organization building vibrant communities and making it easier for all people to lead healthy lives throughout Washington and Hancock counties. For more information about Healthy Acadia’s youth engagement initiatives, and other health and wellness programs and services, visit healthyacadia.org.