By Carrie Haderlie
Connect Wyoming students with one another, encourage them to engage in safe but fun activities—and give them a hashtag—and you may be onto something.
This summer, the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) will launch #WYAMPLIFY, a statewide effort led by youth, for youth, at the Wyoming Youth Summit July 30-Aug. 2 in Newcastle.
“We want to wrap our arms around Wyoming, and (try to) prevent some of the tragedies that are happening across the country” from happening here, Rhea Parsons, project coordinator for Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police said.
The Wyoming Youth Summit will draw seventh to 12th graders from around the state for youth-driven workshops and outdoor activities designed to empower them to form a statewide peer-to-peer network committed to making positive change in their communities.
The theme this year is “We’re Rounding Up Wyoming’s Youth for Prevention,” and during the unique week in late summer, students will meet like-minded youth from across the state.
The focus will remain on empowering youth to share traffic safety, substance abuse prevention, and mental health awareness through their own peer-to-peer networks.
The top two causes of death among American teenagers are car crashes and suicides. Wyoming is no different, Parsons said. With #WYAMPLIFY, WASCOP will focus on preventing a tragedy before it occurs.
“Wyoming is ahead of the game in terms of prevention. We’re one of the only states in the country where the prevention field and law enforcement partner together,” Parson said.
With prevention in mind, WASCOP tasked the Casper Youth Empowerment Council to come up with a tagline—a hashtag—and they came up with #WYAMPLIFY.
“For them, it was, ‘What gets you amped about life? What gets you excited about life?’” Parsons said.
The purpose of the project is to empower youth to take a look at their habits and pursue healthy activities they already have an interest in instead of destructive ones.
“If it is artwork, playing an instrument or playing soccer—reading maybe—whatever it is, we want to help give kids an outlet in their life to deal with stress, give them a sense of confidence and a purpose in life,” Parsons said.
Since March, the YEC in Casper has hosted five #WYAMPLIFY events, including a bowling night, movie night, swim night, art night, and tie dye in the park.
The YEC is a substance-free, responsible, open group of young leaders that collaborate to better the community, support one another, inspire youth, grow, and lead by example, YEC Coordinator Brittlynn Bulgrin said.
“#WYAMPLIFY (helps better) our community with substance-free activities for youth,” Bulgrin said. “We hope to inspire youth that participate in #WYAMPLIFY activities to become leaders in our community.”
During each free event, the YEC offers substance-free information, resources and tools for youth, Bulgrin said.
#WYAMPLIFY also fits right in with SADD’s mission, SADD Wyoming State Coordinator Joey Burke said.
“One of SADD’s missions is to empower youth to talk to their peers about traffic safety issues, drug and alcohol prevention and mental health,” she said.
SADD encourages students to successfully confront risks and pressures that challenge them throughout their daily lives, and gives them the tools to make healthy choices instead of dangerous ones.
“One of those (good) decisions would be finding that natural high in life, to participating in activities in life that are healthy,” Burke said.
Parsons said she believes Wyoming youth face even more pressure to look, act and perform in a certain way than they did a generation ago.
“We want to showcase the fact that Wyoming has a lot of (healthy) opportunities available for kids too, and we want to show what other youth are doing to tap into that,” she said.
Another #WYAMPLIFY goal is to build a statewide youth coalition drawing support from the governor, sheriffs, police chiefs, law enforcement officers, prevention programs, schools, youth-serving programs, student councils, mayors, school counselors, coaches, pastors, youth pastors and others.
Participating students will be encouraged to create videos, music, photos, posters, billboards, radio spots, and other communications to be broadcast across the state through traditional media and social media outlets.
“The coalition’s whole purpose is to be youth-to-youth,” Parsons said. “We really believe that youth have the power to impact each other in a positive way, and they know best way to get things done.”
Together, WASCOP and SADD will pair resources and trained adults with youth to make #WYAMPLIFY a reality. But youth will be given ownership of #WYAMPLIFY, making it their campaign.
“What is meant to connect us (social media) can often divide us,” Parson said, adding that #WYAMPLIFY will provide a safe space where teens can connect.
Though Wyoming law enforcement and prevention often work together, Parsons said the state’s youth has been the missing piece.
“We want to get them involved. We want Wyoming’s youth to have ownership of this, to be empowered to help each other to break down the barriers technology and social media can create,” she said.
“The very thing that is supposed to connect us actually divides us,” Parsons said. “For us, this is about adding youth to the prevention/law enforcement relationship … so they have a role in reducing (premature death) rates for our state.”
For more information or to attend the Wyoming Youth Summit, visit www.WyomingYouthSummit.org