Salem teens will talk mental health, suicide prevention at free daylong summit

Jewels VanVolkingburg of Central High School is blindfolded for a communication exercise during a small group session at ILEAD 2018. (Courtesy/City of Salem)

Salem-area teens can spend a day learning about mental health and coping strategies as part of a city-county partnership to help young leaders better address community challenges.

Thanks to popular demand from teen organizers, this is the second year the annual ILEAD youth summit will focus on mental health, said Laurie Shaw Casarez, the City of Salem’s youth development coordinator.

It’s a free summit held 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, and open to any high school student living in Marion County or west Salem.

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Attendees will begin the day at North Salem High School before traveling by bus to the teen center at the northeast Salem Boys and Girls Club to finish the day. They mix serious discussions with games and a rock-paper-scissors tournament to keep things engaging.

“I’m really excited about youth hearing from other youth about how they have demystified mental health within their families or within school settings and how they’re not ashamed to speak up about this,” Shaw Casarez said.

READ: These Salem teens want a seat at the table on suicide prevention

Speakers include Salem-Keizer students involved in suicide prevention efforts and representatives YouthLine, a crisis text and call line for young people based in Portland.

Ambar Ramirez Melendez, a North Salem senior, attended last year’s summit and has helped organize this one. She said she and other student leaders pushed for a mental health focus because of the need they see in local schools, and the interest from peers in learning how to better support one another.

“You can never stop learning about mental health,” she said.

ILEAD 2018 participants dance the Cha Cha Slide led by college student volunteer staff. (Courtesy/City of Salem)

Classmate La’Maya Thielen, another member of the youth committee, said she wants more resources for young people to help each other because many teens won’t share personal struggles with adults at school.

“Students learn from other students and there’s a better connection … rather than a student opening up to someone they barely know,” she said.

Past summits have focused on topics including civil discourse, learning through community service and how teen brains develop. Shaw Casarez said about 130 students typically attend, and many return in following years.

“Teens vote with their feet. They will not come back if they don’t feel like it’s effective,” she said.

This year, summit organizers have moved to a larger venue in hopes of drawing more students. They’d like to get 200 to sign up and keep growing in coming years.

They also secured new sponsors, including Salem Health and United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley.

Shaw Casarez said the summit goal is to help young people feel like a valuable part of the community and give them productive ways to engage with others on issues that matter to them.

“You can’t change the world in a one-day summit … but the ripple effect of what they’ve learned (can be powerful),” she said. “They can kind of turn it around, take it back to their schools.”

Interested students can learn more and download a registration form on the City of Salem website or pick up a form in their high school’s office. The deadline to register is Oct. 28.

Correction: This article originally misstated Salem Health’s role in the summit. They are a sponsor, but not presenting at the event.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.