The City of Grand Rapids held its annual Neighborhood Summit on March 7. This year’s theme, Growing Justice and Community reflected on the power of reclaiming and sharing personal and community stories around the environment and environmental justice. In its 6th year, the Summit’s one-day experience provided a space for Grand Rapids residents, business owners, and stakeholders to engage with each other around strategies, resources, and opportunities to strengthen neighborhoods and advance equity. In addition to the community resources, interactive activities, and workshops the Summit is known for; this year it debuted a new program track specifically designed for teenagers.
Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard serves on the Summit’s leadership team and is the teen track coordinator. She says that because her kids are all teenagers, she now sees the need for the community to input more into the lives of local teens. During planning sessions for the 2020 Summit, Rogers Drouillard proposed implementing a teen track to the Summit’s leadership team, who welcomed the idea and in turn, asked her to take the lead. As the newly appointed teen track coordinator, Rogers Drouillard’s main goal was to connect teens with each other and provide a platform for their voice at Neighborhood Summit.
“I want to urge adults in our city to remember that when we talk about ‘supporting local,’ it should also mean supporting local teenagers," says Rogers Drouillard.
For the last five years, the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit has offered a program track for elementary-aged children. Kids Summit is for ages 5-12 and offers fun learning opportunities for children and dependents of adults attending the Summit. “We do a great job supporting kids and parents when they are in elementary school and then getting them to college at the end of high school, but seem to leave them without those same supports during most of their middle and high school years,” says Rogers Drouillard. For this reason, she believed incorporating a teen track was important.
“We need to provide a bridge for all the great kids who have already been taught they are Grand Rapids leaders,” she says. “We want them to continue learning and connecting with us at Summit.”
There is also the need, says Rogers Drouillard, to support teenagers more by growing awareness around local organizations who already support them. One such organization is Girls Growing 2 Women, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that works to empower and educate young women by forming a positive, supportive sisterhood that encourages high schoolers to think independently and become leaders in their community. The organization’s founder, Latasha Robertson-Crump, co-facilitated a teen track workshop themed around creating positive relationships. Teens who participated in this session learned tips on dealing with stress, microaggressions, unhealthy relationships, identity, and other forms of self-care.
“Unless you play sports or have a job, there is not a lot of support outside of school that connects teenagers to the community,” says Rogers Drouillard. At the same time, she adds, “There is great work being done in Grand Rapids, but not enough families know about it.”
Other workshops designed for teen track, such as Money, Money, Money make evident the Summit leadership’s desire to develop a platform that creates an opportunity for teens to engage, learn, and ask questions about matters that affect their future. With 2020 being the first year the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit has offered a teen track, Rogers Drouillard hopes as it grows, teens and their caregivers can get connected to resources that already exist in the city – and that the leadership team will do a good job listening and helping to provide new resources in the future.
“Mostly, I hope the teens who participated this year left with the confidence that their voice and ideas matter and should be listened to,” says Rogers Drouillard. “I also hope they gained some practical knowledge from the workshops.”
Photo courtesy Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit