The Promoting Health Among Teens, or PHAT, team of peer educators learned the value of their own voices through the process of brainstorming, planning, organizing and executing the community project of “Bonfire on the Bay: Shining Light on Stress, Anxiety and Depression.”
“I realized that although I am only 14 years old, my voice does matter in this community,” said PHAT peer educator Lauren Cardwell. “This community will benefit from younger voices rising up and taking on challenges such as Bonfire on the Bay.”
PHAT works in partnership with the state of Alaska and trains peer educators to teach a peer-to-peer curriculum, encouraging healthy choices and presenting on topics such as abstinence, safe sex and the effects of drugs and alcohol.
The idea of Bonfire on the Bay was sparked in November 2013 during LeadOn!, a three-day statewide youth leadership conference held in Anchorage. A team sent from Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic’s youth Resource and Enrichment Co-op, or R.E.C. Room, were challenged to produce an event that promoted nonviolence and equality in their community.
During Bonfire on the Bay, which was held May 25 at the Pier One Theatre, a variety of invited speakers instigated discussion and addressed the audience with a rainbow of approaches. Presentations ranged from a personal narrative by Sierra Smith on the power of positive affirmations and self-love to a meditation by Anna Raupp that encouraged the audience members to embrace their surroundings instead of fighting to push distractions away.
“We received some of the most positive feedback on our youth potential and programming we’ve ever received,” said Anna Meredith, KBFPC’s youth program manager. “There was much talk from adult audience members on how this should be an annual event because our community severely deals with these issues and to have youth start the conversation can be eye-opening and healing.”
Along with local donations Bonfire on the Bay was granted $1,500 by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to use toward executing the project.
“I learned the importance of extreme organization, and how to budget because we had a lot of things we wanted to do and a limited amount of money,” said Sierra Moskios, 17, a recent high school graduate and a PHAT peer educator.
Jonas Noomah, 17, emcee for the event and also a PHAT peer educator said, “It is one thing to know something, like ‘how teens can make a difference,’ but it is another thing to experience it. (Bonfire on the Bay) was the largest example I have experienced where we went out and did something instead of just knowing that we could.”
Brandt Apiki, Noomah, Cardwell, Lilli Johnson, Moskios, Amy Woodruff, Fred Dickerson, Hailey Hughes, representatives of Homer Wilderness Leaders (HoWL), Rebecca Siegel, and Zoe Story were among the many volunteers acknowledged for their efforts to execute the event.
Johnson, 14, said, “I learned that teens can make a difference, and it’s not just adults that can have an impact.”
He was involved in the event coordination team from the beginning and is currently training to become a peer educator.
Cardwell said teenagers seem to have a bad reputation and that makes it difficult for some teens to be heard.
“Many of us have beautiful minds and ideas to share but just don’t get listened to. The impact of teen voices will bring up subjects in the community that maybe the adults might not see as an issue in Homer,” said Cardwell.
A video of the Bonfire on the Bay event and the speaker clips will be made public on the R.E.C. Room’s website, www.HomerRECroom.org and the R.E.C. Room YouTube page when available.
Meredith explained that the PHAT team normally uses the summer months to train peer educators, although a PHAT class will be presented at the R.E.C. Room later this month. A specific date will be announced later.
For more information, contact the R.E.C. Room Monday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. at 235-6736 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shannon Reid is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.