Youths presenting at a conference discussing topics ranging from opioids and harm reduction to mental health and vulnerability show off a few door prizes at the end of the conference. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Youth ‘celebrate vulnerability’ at Fraser Valley youth-led summit

Youth shared experiential expertise on various topics with service providers from throughout Lower Mainland

A conference in Abbotsford organized, planned and led by youths from throughout the Lower Mainland reversed traditional roles, educating service providers about their perspectives of topics ranging from opioids and harm reduction to mental health and vulnerability.

The Balancing Our Minds summit, organized by youth peer-based group FLOH (Foster system, Life promotion, Opioid dialogue, Harm reduction/homelessness), was rescheduled from March 16 to March 29, and regional youth FLOHcilitator Marcie Pruden says most youths were unable to make the new date.

Instead, filling the seats in a theatre at W.J. Mouatt Secondary School were a variety of service providers and parents, coming from as far east as Hope and from Metro Vancouver to the west.

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“I think it was more of youth sharing their truth with people who needed to hear it, because they’re in the field. And if you’re in the field, I think you should have a better understanding of what’s going on with the people who are living in the experience versus what you’re taught by your education,” Pruden said.

Josh Raine, FLOHcilitator for Mission, said it’s also about hearing from a range of experiences and expertise – not just the typical top-down model of adults dictating to youth.

“The youth here have a lot of valuable knowledge that they can share and not enough people are open to listening to other people. People think they know everything,” Raine said.

“The moment you think you know everything, you’re closing opportunities … from everyone else around you that you shouldn’t be. And I think that this is a good example to show that you can learn from absolutely anyone.”

RELATED: ‘It’s like a trap; it’s like they don’t want you to succeed’

The summit largely consisted of workshops on topics including leadership, borderline personality disorder, self-destructive tendencies, harm reduction and opioid dialogue, gender fluidity and domestic abuse.

“Best part about today was seeing all the youth be vulnerable and happy to be vulnerable and celebrating the things that once was hard for them,” Pruden said, adding that embracing vulnerability was a major theme of the event.

“To be able to celebrate sitting in the uncomfortable and being able to celebrate when you’re able to be vulnerable with people, how being vulnerable with somebody is the most powerful thing that you can be.”

That message, Pruden said, is a necessary one for service providers, parents, counsellors and others to keep in mind when working with youths.

“If you want to see any growth in youth, it’s the meaningful relationship built within you two before that. I’m not talking about throwing them money or throwing them in a meeting, I’m talking about actually showing them that you care about them,” Pruden said.

Having such sensitive topics highlighted at the event comes back to Pruden’s point of celebrating vulnerability – creating an environment where individuals in workshops could be vulnerable.

Haley Hodgkinson, FLOHcilitator for Chilliwack, said being able to be vulnerable in a room of strangers comes from “having courage in yourself and believing in yourself.”

“And I think a lot of that comes from the adults here showing that they believe in us.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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