By DAVID GREEN
An amazing experience. A life-changing experience.
This year's Youth Leadership and Diversity Conference at Hillsdale College last month got high marks from Morenci's two participants. It's something they think more students should experience.
The program is billed as a way for students to "enhance their knowledge of who they are and where they fit into the complexities of an ever-changing society," offering in a week what might typically take years to experience and learn.
Spencer Elliott explained that the conference uses the tactics of self-acceptance and openness toward others to teach about both yourself and people of other backgrounds and cultures.
"It was an environment free from judgement that allowed delegates to open up and create very close bonds in a short span of time," he said.
Sessions ranged from light-hearted topics such as hugging and relationships to deeper subjects—things about our society that deeply worry us, for example, and problems faced in daily life.
"With an atmosphere of gratitude and support, many of the delegates were able to break down stigmas we may have had about other cultures and, most importantly, ourselves," Spencer said. "Overall, it's the kind of experience that changes lives and perspectives, I myself am having a huge paradigm shift."
His sister, Larissa, describes the week as a real eye-opener.
"It taught me to truly be grateful for the amazing life that I have," she said. "My fellow delegates and camp counselors were very open and easy to talk to. This is a truly amazing opportunity that I will carry with me for the rest of my life."
Larissa wishes every student could have the experience and her brother agrees.
"I highly recommend that teens take the chance to do this while they can. By teaching us about our own personalities and those of others, I feel like we learned how to have the confidence to make a positive difference in our communities," Spencer said.
Through a mix of small and large discussion groups, delegates share their views on a wide range of topics. Because each person comes from a different background, opinions differ. Participants learn to argue their point of view without personally attacking others.
The program isn't designed to change views. Over the years, it's been found that the sessions tend to solidify the values and opinions that students bring to the program. For many delegates, it's the first time they have vocalized how they feel about issues.
According to the program description, to be able to look at a person as a valuable asset to society means to look past the stereotypes that may otherwise blind us to the true worth of the individual.
• Spencer and Larissa will join other delegates at the Aug. 21 meeting of Civitan of Lenawee County for lunch and the opportunity to report on their experiences. Civitan paid the participation fee.
Spencer and Larissa are the children of Larry and Melissa Elliott.