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Local Youth Summit Develops Next Generation of Community Leaders

July 12, 2018

Marielis Rodriguez was excited, but also somewhat apprehensive about spending the weekend with youth from neighboring cities as one of 15 members of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence selected for the inaugural Merrimack Valley CORE 4 Youth Leadership Summit in 2015.

Rodriguez, who recently completed her fourth summit at Camp Nokomis on Lake Winnipesaukee, now keeps in touch with fellow participants from the Merrimack Valley YMCA, Andover Youth Services and North Andover Youth and Recreation Services through social media.

"Every year, I think it can't get any better - and then it does," said Rodriguez, president of the Keystone Club, a community service-oriented leadership group for high school students at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. "Usually, people from different towns are in competition, or they only want to hang out with kids they know. At CORE 4, it doesn't matter where you live. We're just one big group of friends."

Those sentiments are echoed by other CORE 4 participants. Merrimack Valley YMCA member Abigail Reyes said she has become increasingly confident in stepping outside her comfort zone as a result of the summit's judgment-free group activities. For example, students wrote about a personal experience that required determination to overcome, and then burned their private essays to symbolize leaving behind any bad memories.

"It made me feel a lot lighter," said Reyes, who has joined Youth & Government and a new recruitment program for eighth graders at the Merrimack Valley YMCA in the last year. "That's what CORE 4 is about, growing as a person."

North Andover Youth and Recreation Services member Angela Romano says her experiences at the past four summits made her more appreciative. In one exercise, students took a step forward for privileges such as a two-parent household, steady employment and the assumption they will attend college. Students took a step back if, for example, someone in their family struggles with mental illness or substance abuse.

"I was sad to see how far back some kids were standing," Romano said. "It showed how many kids deal with the same things, no matter where they live."

Sarah Jennings, a member of Andover Youth Services, said she also appreciated the unique opportunity to form relationships with students from surrounding towns.

"For much of my life, places like Lawrence, Methuen and even North Andover have been just a concept because I didn't know anyone there," she said. "For us all to have the chance to meet and then become friends makes those communities and their issues so much more real."

In addition to the myriad of group activities, the group's cohesiveness was strengthened through guest speakers. This year's keynote address was delivered by Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence alumnus Socrates de la Cruz, a Lawrence attorney and CORE 4 donor who additionally provides an annual college scholarship to a CORE 4 participant through his nonprofit organization, Socratic, Inc.

"Having grown up in Lawrence, and now as a professional who works with clients throughout the Merrimack Valley, the idea for this summit resonated with me immediately," said De La Cruz. "Now more than ever, it's important to maintain a free flow of respect and desire to help one another. That attitude makes us better not only individually, but holistically throughout the valley. That's the goal."

De la Cruz said his message of hard work paying off was instilled by Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence staff members including Operations Director Billy Robertson, who assists in overseeing CORE 4 with its founder, Merrimack Valley YMCA Chief Operating Officer Frank Kenneally; North Andover Youth and Recreation Services Executive Director Rick Gorman; and Andover Youth Services Director Bill Fahey.

"The summit is a very powerful experience for all the kids," Robertson said. "They bonded together as one group, and got so much out of it."

According to Kenneally, the students' commitment to becoming leaders in their respective communities is the result of year-round efforts at all four organizations.

"I'm excited about what other possibilities to collaborate are out there," he said.

 

Did You Know?

Every day well over 600 children engage in fun and positive activities at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.