Summit seeks to empower county youth

By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer

In a Teens Take Control Teen Summit on Saturday, area high school students will do more than talk about sex and drugs. Youth will actually develop plans of action for their families during emergency situations.

In addition, teens will get a lesson in media literacy, focusing on how advertising affects choices, and will have an opportunity to film their own counter-sex culture video. The day summit will also feature a guest speaker, Rick Bender, a national spit tobacco speaker who suffered from mouth and throat cancer and had to have reconstructive surgery after years of chewing tobacco. His talk is entitled, “What’s Wrong With Chew and Other Tobacco Evils?”

The summit is sponsored by the Roosevelt County Health Council, the New Mexico Department of Health and the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program (TUPAC).

“The purpose of the conference is to raise awareness about issues teens face everyday, such as teen sexual behavior and teen pregnancies.

But we will also educate them about media literacy, how it impacts all of the decisions they make, about the impact of tobacco use and exposure to second hand smoke,” said Terri Teti, executive director of community resources and public health education and coordinator of the Roosevelt County Health Council.

According to Teti, in addition to high teen pregnancy rates in New Mexico and Roosevelt County, the numbers of sexually transmitted diseases are also on the rise among teens, and in particular, from oral sex, which she said is increasing in the middle school and junior high ages.

Keith Wattenbarger, the Roosevelt County Emergency Manager, will lead one of three sessions which is titled “Preparing for All Hazards, Helping Others.”

“We want to raise awareness amongst teens of how they can help during emergencies,“ Teti said. “The world is looking at another major pandemic and kids need to know how they are gonna be able to help their families, particularly if they are quarantined.”

“This is the beginning of emergency planning we will be taking into the schools,” she added.

“In this area, we no longer have shelters at places such as the courthouse because they have voting machines in the basement. Our emergency plan is to ‘shelter in place,’” Teti explained.

Wattenbarger said, “We would be willing to have any or all young people be a part of our emergency planning committee and we will be electing officers amongst the youth. We are in the process of including them and training them.”

He said that it seems only natural to include youth, particularly those who have been involved in missionary work projects with their church youth groups. He said this is a way they can help their own communities.

“At the end of the day, youth will have some ownership and this really allows them to be a part of the community, which I think makes it stronger across the board,” Wattenbarger said.

Teti said the summit is all about letting youth know that they have the power to help bring about change. She added, “Our goal is to let teens know they have an enormous amount of opportunities out there, even if they come from a family of poverty.”

Teti said she hopes they will hold another teen summit next year. Following Saturday’s teen summit, it will not end there. She said in a few weeks, participants will each get a DVD copy of the video they make. Also, she said her group is working to launch a Youth Media Network.