When members of the Y.O.U. (Young, Optimistic United) Youth Coalition met earlier this month at Berkley High School, the teens started off by squelching their after-school hunger pangs with pizza, candy and pop.
But after the quick snack they divided into groups and got down to business, designing an entertaining and educational presentation for adults about alcohol and drug use.
One group made up skits while another team came up with survey questions regarding substance use and teen culture.
Berkley High School sophomores Erin Michonski and Maya Edery worked on a PowerPoint presentation that describes effective ways for adults to communicate with teens.
It also lists drugs that kids may be using, along with the slang names for those substances. The meeting on Feb. 5 was the first Y.O.U. experience for the girls, who are also members of the Huntington Woods Teen Council.
"It's a very open environment where we can really talk about all the problems and pressures that we're all facing," Edery said. "Everyone seems very open and very including of others."
"It's very cool," Michonski said. "Right away we met a bunch of new people -- I learned about drugs I didn't know about."
Y.O.U. is open to students who attend Berkley and Oak Park high schools, and its membership includes teens who live in Berkley, Oak Park, Huntington Woods, and other communities. Meetings are held twice a month, one at each school.
Y.O.U. developed out of a Tri-Community Coalition-sponsored event called Dialogue Day, where teens and adult leaders met to talk about issues that affect young people at home, in school and in the community.
"One of the things that came across very clearly from the young people was they wanted a place where they could meet regularly and get to know people from other schools," said Deanna Tocco, TCC program director and Youth Coalition facilitator. "We did a lot of breaking down barriers of stereotypes of each other that day. They were really excited by that and wanted an ongoing relationship and a way to do some good things together for all three communities. That's the uniqueness of Y.O.U.
"It's an opportunity to bring kids together and focus on helping them make good decisions, and helping them change the tone in the schools and community around substance abuse, so kids can say, 'we can have fun without doing that stuff,'" Tocco said.
Oak Park High School students Mallary Jackson, a senior and president of Y.O.U., and George Lanier, a junior, both attended Dialogue Day last spring. They see the benefits of meeting teens from other communities and working together on common goals.
"We get to see the other side of the fence," Jackson said. "We might think that we're different because we're from different communities but when we come together we see that we have the same issues, like substance abuse in our communities. As a coalition we try to figure out ways to help people realize that it's okay to say 'no' and it's okay to do something different than everybody else."
"There are a lot of stereotypes," Lanier said. "Its kind of funny sometimes but we get to talk about it and we get to resolve our issues together."
Y.O.U. is organizing a drug-free bowling night/fund-raiser. Some members want to do prevention presentations for elementary-aged students.
"Some kids might have problems at home with this and we can give them some type of hope or some type of warning so that they won't do it. We just want to get the word out and help them the best as we can," Lanier said.
"It's about helping people. Younger people and also people in our age group at school," Jackson added.
Y.O.U. members will make their thought-provoking substance abuse presentation at the TCC meeting, 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 5 at the Michigan State Police Post, 14350 W. 10 Mile in Oak Park. The meeting is open to all community members. To learn more, contact Deanna Tocco at (248) 837-8009 or firstname.lastname@example.org.