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News: Not Kid Stuff

Annual youth conference brings hundreds together

By Selena Reder · November 10th, 2004 · News
Draped across the Italian leather couch in Leslie Kreines' chic living room is a patchwork quilt, its squares made of T-shirts bearing the logo of the annual Hamilton County Youth Conference (HCYC).

Each year for the past 14 years more than 500 teenagers from all over Cincinnati have been going to the University of Cincinnati to participate in the conference. Kreines founded it for the purpose of bringing together a diversity of young people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to meet. Students in grades nine through 12 make new friends and learn leadership skills.

"Every year I run into someone who tells me that they attended the Hamilton County Youth Conference and it changed their life," Kreines says. "They have their own personal story to tell, and it is truly inspiring."

Vincent Washington, a senior at Woodward High School and president of its student council, says the conference encouraged his personal development.

"The conference made me want to find other roles I can take outside of school," he says. "I saw the opportunity to get more leadership skills and work with other people."

Washington is a member of the Junior Executive Committee for HCYC. This year he will introduce the keynote speaker, chess champion Maurice Ashley.

Students who participate in HCYC are invited to join the committee and participate in the planning of future conferences. Jeremy Kreines, a senior at Cincinnati Country Day, is a member of the youth committee. As the founder's son, he's been helping with HCYC for several years.

In the past four years he's taken an active role on the committee.

"I wouldn't say it's made me the person I am today, but it has helped shape me to some degree," he says.

Kreines has seen many kids pass through the conference and says it's effective.

"They just love it so much," he says. "It influences a lot of people."

Committee members select topics for the conference that are relevant to high school students. This year's topics include college planning, gay rights and relationships.

Representatives of SUMA -- a nonprofit agency devoted to teen pregnancy prevention and parenting programs for young mothers and fathers -- will lead the discussion of relationship and sexual pressures. SUMA has been part of the planning and funding of HCYC for the past two years.

"We give them information they need to make changes in their lives and also make responsible choices," says Bernice Washington, director of the agency.

The Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC), a mentoring program, has been involved with the conference for 12 years. John Bryant, former executive director of CYC, formed a partnership with Leslie Kreines.

"This is a program that fit very nicely with the mission of Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, so we were quite willing to take it under our auspices and sponsor it," Bryant says.

He also found that many other organizations in Cincinnati shared the HCYC mission. Previous sponsors have included the Junior League and the National Council of Jewish Women.

"We wanted the sponsorship to be reflective of what the students do in terms of diversity and working across religious and racial lines," Bryant says.

The University of Cincinnati not only hosts HCYC but helps with planning and sponsorship as well. Kreines does much of the initial planning in her home and then a coordinator from the UC admissions office takes over. Alana Partridge of UC is coordinating this year's event.

"What inspires me the most is when students come up to me and share something they heard or felt for the first time, when I watch students take out pens and sign each other's T-shirts, regardless of their color or where they come from, and I know new friendships are formed," Kreines says.

She recalls a year when a white student went to the conference against her parent's wishes. Her family didn't want her involved in activities with mixed races. While at the conference, she sat next to an African-American girl and found out they shared the same birthday. They talked and discovered they both came from households with racist belief systems. The girls became good friends and felt the experience had changed their lives.

These experiences are what keep Kreines committed.

"And every year I question should I be doing this conference again and then 600 students come off the buses on a Saturday ready to take on the day and I know this conference must continue," she says.

The Hamilton County Youth Conference is from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday at UC. For more information, visit www.uc.edu/events/hcyc.


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