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E4 Youth Summit Helps Medina Teens Connect, Lead, and Make a Difference

Among the more troubling findings of a county-wide health and human services needs assessment, which United Way of Medina County (UWMC) helped initiate and pay for in 2012, was that 25% of our high school students reported being depressed (defined as feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more). Tragically, this finding also came amid a rash of teen suicides in Medina County, with five such incidents occurring over a 12-month period between 2012 and 2013.  

Armed with this information and a sense of urgency, UWMC volunteers invested more than $675,000 in programming over the ensuing three years that has helped to increase access to youth mental health services, and educate students on making safe and healthy choices.

One such programming investment is the United Way-led E4 Youth Summit. First offered in February 2014 and held biennially, UWMC’s E4 Summit is designed to Educate, Empower, Engage, and Equip participating high school students to be successful now and in the future.

“Part of depression is a feeling of being alone and isolated,” explains UWMC CEO Cheryl Parzych.  “The goal of the E4 Youth Summit is to help Medina County teens connect with their community and to empower them with ways that they can make a difference.”

The most recent E4 Youth Summit was held over two days on October 28 and November 12, 2016 at Westfield’s Blair Center and the Medina County Career Center.  To identify potential participants, who must apply to attend, United Way enlisted the help of high school Prevention Counselors in all seven of Medina County’s school districts.

“We set out countywide to attract an inclusive set of students who were in good standing at school,” Parzych said. ”We wanted every interested student to be able to participate,”

Attended by more than 150 students, the 2016 Summit began with students identifying their natural strengths through a behavioral assessment.  Students then heard from a panel of community leaders about Medina County and its aspirations. Afterwards the students identified needs and developed volunteer projects for nearly 20 area organizations, including:

•    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Summit, Medina and Stark Counties
•    First Impression, Inc.
•    Kiwanis Club of Medina
•    Lamplight Counseling Service
•    Brunswick Optimist Club
•    Feeding Medina County
•    Medina County Auditor’s Office
•    Medina County Commissioners
•    Medina County District Library
•    Medina County Home
•    Medina County Park District
•    Medina Community Police Activity League
•    Medina County Veterans Services
•    Project: LEARN of Medina County
•    SHC, The Arc of Medina County
•    Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
•    Medina Diversity Project
•    Western Reserve Masonic Community

Volunteer opportunities discussed included organizing and holding a canned food drive, creating marketing campaigns to raise awareness of various community groups, reading to children, and creating life stories of area veterans through personal interviews and discussions.

Parzych said she was very encouraged by both the level of participation from community organizations and feedback from student attendees, many of whom promised to continue pursuing their volunteering efforts by applying for E4 Youth Ventures funding. In fact, students from Buckeye High School who attended the 2014 Summit applied for and received Ventures funding to form the Buckeye Blanket Buddies Club. The Club now raises money at local community events throughout the summer to provide care packages that include a blanket, toys, stuffed animals, and hygiene products to those in need. 

“I think it went very well and that we had a great mix of students,” Parzych said of the 2016 Summit. “I know many students are also interested in professional development opportunities in the community, which we may incorporate into the next Youth Summit in 2018.”

In addition to the E4 Youth Summit, UWMC’s youth engagement investments include peer-to-peer mentoring programs, resilience and emotion management training, and suicide prevention and awareness training.  United Way also funds on-site mental health counselors at four county high schools. UWMC's total  investment in Youth Engagement for 2017 is $244,850.  

 

View United Way of Medina County: Youth Ventures - Buckeye Blanket Buddies