Youth Summit 2019 030March 20, 2019 -- Westchester County Executive George Latimer, the Department of Community Mental Health, the County Youth Bureau, the harris project, Montefiore Hudson Valley Collaborative, Student Assistance Services Corporation and the Westchester Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth hosted the second Annual Youth Summit at the Westchester County Center. The event was a unique opportunity for students, educators and health professionals to come together with civic leaders and elected officials, to discuss the reasons teens may turn to substances, and explore methods of prevention. The theme of the Youth Summit was Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness (CODA), Youth as Voices of Change. Co-Occurring Disorders is the combination of one or more mental health challenges, resulting in substance misuse or addiction.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “Many young people are impacted by mental health issues and substance misuse, and the Youth Summit is an important part of Westchester County’s multifaceted approach in addressing prevention, education and treatment for our teens. We hope that the Youth Summit empowers youth to become positive decision-makers, seek early intervention if they have a problem, and step in if they have friends and peers that may be headed down the wrong path.”

Over 300 students from 46 Westchester County High Schools gathered together for the event, which included a series of break-out workshops that addressed topics such as leading change, mindfulness, social media and trends, transformation through the arts and sport, creating connections and supporting friends and peers. Stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD and additional mental health disorders, trauma and sports injury were all highlighted as challenges that can lead to substance misuse, and the students discussed ways they to increase awareness, create change and improve outcomes.

Commissioner of the Department of Community Mental Health Michael Orth said: “We are extremely thrilled to partner with our school districts and co-sponsors, but most importantly with our students who are leading the way in changing the narrative on mental health and substance misuse. Prevention is such a worthwhile investment of energy and resources, and CODA provides a unique lens through which to empower our youth to truly be the ‘Voices of Change.’”

Director of the Youth Bureau Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden said: “Transitioning into adulthood can be overwhelming yet exciting. By engaging and educating our youth on the realities of co-occurring disorders, and empowering young people to access available resources to address their own needs as well as their peers, the efforts of developing future leaders that are socially and emotionally fit will be advanced. The Westchester County Youth Bureau, the Department of Community Mental Health, and the various stakeholders are poised to broaden the conversation concerning CODA, and will continue to leverage resources to promote optimal health outcomes for Westchester’s youth.” 

The harris project founder Stephanie Marquesano lost her son Harris to accidental overdose when he was 19, which motivated her to start this initiative: “This is an incredible next step in the CODA movement. Co-occurring disorders is preventable. Our youth just need to understand it, and the tools to bring the message forward. Providing an opportunity for our youth to engage with peers from across the County, work with incredible facilitators who can inspire them to think beyond the ordinary, and receive training in some of the components of the CODA Weeks Celebration Boxes creates the framework for our youth to return to their schools ready to make positive impact.”

Westchester County will also be taking part in the CODA Weeks for 2019, which will run from April 1- April 15. CODA Weeks are dedicated to raising awareness in our schools and communities, and highlight the harris project’s peer-driven prevention program, which implements education and training in local high schools.