On August 2, 2018, Mary Black Foundation’s adolescent health initiative Connect, assisted local teens in hosting a youth-led summit, RiZe, to raise awareness of social issues impacting the lives of young people in Spartanburg County.
This week’s blog is written by Amelia Hrebenar, RiZe Event Coordinator and Photographer, Class of 2020
In a time where simply getting a group of friends together to hang out is a difficult task, planning a summit to encourage dozens of teenagers to use their voices isn’t the easiest either. In working with RiZe, we learned essential skills that will help us all our lives while helping our community at the same time. We learned how to work together, both with our peers and adults, towards a common goal: getting our voices heard. We experienced using the power of social media for our benefit, and we learned the importance of trusting yourself and your team, even in chaotic circumstances.
On June 3rd, we started out blind to the challenges that faced us. Most of us had no idea what a ‘summit’ was, let alone how to successfully plan one. As the first group of Spartanburg teenagers to plan an entirely youth-led event, we were swimming in uncharted waters. The first few meetings were undefined, and every time we reconvened felt like two steps forward and one back. We really started to get the ball rolling when we began getting serious about topics that we were passionate about and believed affected local teens the most. During a time in our lives where it always seem to be otherwise, our age was an advantage, since we knew first-hand what issues adults tended to overlook. As time progressed and more meetings were scheduled, our event started coming together, the team formed a very unique bond, and RiZe was born.
On the day of the summit, we were finally able to see our months of planning come to life. All of our hard work was beginning to materialize into something that would leave a mark on our community. Although most of the work was over, we still had the necessary job of making sure the day ran smoothly. We organized volunteers to monitor the halls and directed stray students into nearby breakout sessions. Throughout the afternoon, we had the opportunity to talk with attendees and find out why they RiZe for their community. We made new friends, learned about others life experiences, and overall had a really fun time.
In the end, we learned so much more from RiZe than we ever could have imagined. What attendees may not have realized about their peer leaders is that once, we too didn’t have a voice. It is so gratifying to know that we, as ‘just teens’, successfully created a space where we can pass along that opportunity to others just like us. RiZe enabled us to feel what it was like to inspire other teens our age, while playing an active role in bettering our society. From the summit we emerged empowered, and hope others experienced the same.
For more information on the focus areas of RiZe, to watch a highlight video, and to see pictures from the event, visit their web page.
A special thanks to our sponsors: City of Spartanburg, Connect Spartanburg, Friends of the Library, Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce, and Spartanburg’s Way to Wellville
Another special thanks to our adult allies: Big Brother’s Big Sisters, Campaign for Youth Justice, EMERGE, Gender Benders, Hispanic Alliance, Imatter, Impact Spartanburg, My Brother’s Keeper, No Filter, PFLAG, Safe Homes Rape Crisis Coalition, Spartanburg County Library, Spartanburg Day School, and the United Way of the Piedmont.