Congressman Anthony Brindisi, representatives from Assemblyman John Salka and Senator Rachel May’s office along with Madison County Town Supervisors and other local elected officials and community agencies leaders gathered to hear teens from across Madison County share their opinions on what they would like their communities to look like.
The event was organized by Reality Check, Hamilton Area Community Coalition, and Madison County SADD. These groups are directed by BRIDGES Madison County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
In this ground-breaking collaborative project, students from nine Madison County schools created their ideal communities using a paper map and stickers that represented different businesses. Options included a book store, café, casino, marijuana shop, library, rec center, vape shop, dance studio, pizza shop, police station, and many more. Students were asked to build their ideal community using these stickers, and could use all the sticker options, or leave off whatever they felt didn’t belong. They were then asked to comment on their choices. Information from the 800 completed projects was compiled and presented by a student panel at the Youth Summit event, held at Hamilton Central School. One student from each participating school presented the findings from their individual school’s project to the audience of local, state and federal leaders, and shared their personal view of what makes a healthy community.
Participating schools included: Hamilton Central School, Madison Central School, Chittenango Middle School, Oneida High School, Holy Cross Academy, Cazenovia Central School, Canastota High School, Morrisville-Eaton Middle and High School, and Stockbridge Valley Middle and High School.
Alyssa MacKinnon, a senior at Hamilton Central School, and one of the students who helped pilot this activity, is proud to be part of something that can help change communities for the better. “I am part of the Hamilton Coalition because I want to see safe, healthy, drug free communities. Each community has wonderful things in it and also things that can be better. This activity gave us an opportunity to explore that.”
Kat Wojsiat, a junior at Holy Cross Academy, noticed that many of the schools had similar results. “Across the county, students are asking for no tobacco or vape shops in our communities. We want healthy things, like rec centers, libraries, and skate parks. Students want to live in safe, happy, healthy communities. and We need the right environment to grow up in.” said Wojsiat. “Let’s start investing our time and our money into restoring our parks and playgrounds, building up our community spaces, and offering more teen friendly activities,”
“The reality is that young people are already living in towns with rampant advertising for unhealthy products. They are living next door to vape shops, gas stations with colorful tobacco ads, and walking into grocery stores and pharmacies with huge tobacco displays behind the counter. What we found from this activity is that they imagine so much better for their communities,” said Julie Hengst, Reality Check Youth Action Specialist.
“The main goal of the project was to empower our teens and give them a platform to share their collective voice and opinions,” says Melissa Cassulis, Hamilton Coalition program coordinator. “Too often, our youth feel marginalized. By uniting our schools through this project, we showed them they are not alone, that most students are making positive decisions, and that adults truly care about their opinions.”
Many thanks to all who partnered in making this event such a success: Hamilton Central School; HCS SADD leader Lauren Reynolds; and all the Madison County school leaders who organized the project among their students.
The event was even featured on News Channel 9 "Cool Schools": https://www.localsyr.com/cool-schools/cool-schools-4-11-19_20190411111154/1916841247