We know that social connection and a sense of community are powerful drivers of health. We all have an inherent desire to experience a sense of belonging and support from the communities in which we live, work, play, and pray. And it is through social connection that we can thrive as individuals, as a community, and uplift one another – from youth to older adults.
In April 2022, the first annual Bastrop County Youth Summit took place, an event designed by young leaders with their community peers in mind. This gathering was particularly meaningful following countless stressors and months disruption in normal school routines caused by the global pandemic.
The vision was clear: to create a more resilient, thriving, and equitable community for all. The theme, “Hear Us Now,” created solely by youth organizers set forth four key objectives:
- Inspire youth to become advocates for change in the schools and communities in Bastrop County.
- Increase youth’s capacity to become proactive leaders who break gender, racial, and cultural barriers.
- Integrate youth within county systems to guide policies that will affect the future.
- Empower youth through education leadership opportunities that will encourage them to achieve their highest goals and potential.
With a vision that began more than two years ago, local teen leaders worked to co-create an experiential space that was welcoming and one that their peers could be proud of. From QR check-ins and fun swag bags to mentor opportunities and inspiring speakers, the inaugural summit was embraced by our community and was a tremendous success. Nearly 200 teens joined for the event including 12 teen leaders, 35 volunteers, and 11 presenters. Summit attendees experienced a wide range of activities including:
- A mentor café where students drafted their own affirmations and shared personal expectations for the day.
- A common area for conversation, and interactive and live mural drawing in collaboration with a local high school class and art muralist, J. Muzacz.
- Substance abuse simulator, courtesy of Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
- Inspired break-out sessions created by the youth planning committee, including Mental Health Self Care, Advocacy and Civic Engagement, Adulting (Budgeting and Beyond High School), and Substance Use and its Implications.
Mayra Robles, local Bastrop youth leader
I’m proud to say that my peers and I were able to plan and host the first annual Bastrop County Youth Summit at the Bastrop Convention Center. If you know me, you know I have always been extremely involved within the Bastrop Community and that I will go to the ends of the earth to help others, even if it’s someone I don’t know. The Youth Summit is probably one of the biggest events I’ve ever been a part of and I am extremely proud of what we were able to create. I hope all teens who attended this event felt the impact I once felt a few years ago when I decided to stand up for youth, advocate for youth to be heard within our community, and do something that makes a difference.
You may be wondering why I’m so passionate about youth advocacy and what motivates me to be involved:
- Our society is full of systematic injustices, and we will see no progress unless we as youth begin to stand up for what is right and begin to advocate for a change.
- Often young people are told that we aren’t allowed to give our opinions because we are “too young” so we “don’t know anything.” Well, I’m here to say that those who say these things are too afraid of what the youth can do to better in our community. You are not too young. You are knowledgeable, creative, and full of ideas… do not be afraid to throw those ideas out there.
- I am passionate about youth advocacy because we truly are the future. The future of our world, our community, and our lives, are in our own hands. If we don’t advocate for youth inclusion, we are not advocating for our voices to be heard, and we would be letting others easily shut us out.
As I begin to age out of being a part of the youth groups I’ve participated in for many years, I urge those a few years behind me – it’s now your turn. It’s your turn to stand in front of hundreds of other young people and tell them how important it to stand up for themselves. It’s your turn to help motivate students who might feel their voices don’t matter. It’s your turn to promote inclusion. Say something, do something, be something – it’s your turn.
If you are an adult and you think you can’t advocate for youth, I’m here to say you’re wrong. I have been led by some AMAZING adults the past few years who have helped shape me into the person I am today and provide me with the tools I need to continue growing into a strong, passionate leader.
I’m deeply grateful to those who helped in the planning and hosting of the Bastrop County Youth Summit. However, our work is just getting started. We still have much to do as we continue working to change our community for the better.
Interested in learning how you can support youth in Bastrop County or how you can participate in the 2023 Bastrop County Youth Summit? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayra Robles is a 2021 graduate of Bastrop High School, team member of Americorps for Communities, and a student at Austin Community College.
Priscilla Ruiz is a Co-Creator of the 2022 Bastrop Youth Summit, Youth Director & Advocate in Bastrop county.