Youth representing the community in D.C. Capitol

YOUTH AT THE SENATOR’S OFFICE waiting for their meeting (Lauren Gallegos

Arantza Villarroel | Writer

February 13, 2024

The new year has started wonderfully for the Wellness and Prevention Center Organization (WPC) with the opportunity to attend CADCA 2024 Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. by the hand of Lauren Gallegos, WPC Director, Monika Robles, and Priscila Reguerin. The week-long activity, from January 28th to February 1st, focused mainly on the youth, to help them: deepen their knowledge of substance use prevention and mental health, network, and represent their communities in the Capitol, with the Senator of their state. 

EXTRAVAGANT HOTEL CAPTIVATED YOUTH for their week-long stay (Melanie Lopez)

The invitations to assist the event were equally distributed among high school clubs the WPC frequently works with, such as Strengths in Numbers and Cultural Unity from San Clemente High School, and The Noble Path Foundation Club at Capo Valley High school.

“It was such a privilege to be considered for the invitation” exclaimed junior Melanie Lopez. “I have never been considered for such an event before, and it made me realize that my hard work has paid off.”

On Sunday morning of January 28th, the group met up on the San Clemente High School’s parking lot to await for the bus. Smiles stamped on all the young participants’ faces, excited for the new adventure that was to come. Five hours later the students and chaperons arrived at the prestigious Gaylord National Resort in Maryland, where they found themselves delighted with such extravagant decorations and attention to detail in just one hotel. 

The next morning, the group met up in the lobby to start their expedition through the streets of the Capital. Thanks to the rigorous scheduling from the chaperones, and attentive ear to the youth’s requests, the group was able to visit the main historical sites and monuments available. They started off at the Natural History Museum and eventually made their way down the street to the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial Plaza, and the Lincoln’s Memorial to end the tour. 

By 5 p.m. the group was already back to the hotel, all prepared for the introductory ceremonies, an Ideas Fair for all the organizations to inform the public of their purposes and methods, and to end the night, a “youth mixer”, which is a meet-up activity for the adolescents to socialize and network. Everyone returned to their rooms that night with a funny story to share, free stickers and pamphlets of coalitions interested in collaborating with them for their own clubs, and some even with new friends they talked to for the rest of the trip! 

On Tuesday, January 30th the day was mainly centered around different training sessions for the youth and adults to challenge and deepen their current knowledge of substance use prevention and mental health. A multitude of workshops were available along the day, with topics as interesting as: “To Infinity and Beyond”, discussing ageism and how to strategically combat against it, directly from a 15 year old from the state next door, New York; “Eating an Elephant”, discussing tools, tips, and skills to identify and diffuse conflict; and even Spanish session teaching “El Arte de Trabajar en Equipo” (the Art of Teamwork), to help youth determine plans of actions for conflict resolution, and learn the value of a wide variety of opinions intertwining for one goal in common. 

“Every session had amazing speakers in charge of teaching us!” exclaimed senior Anna Jones. “The chief officers of CDC and heads of the federal health agency were present throughout, and lots of people got the chance of talking with them.”

SENATOR ALEX PADILLA AWAITED INSIDE the Capitol as youth walked in (Arantza Villarroel)

Capitol Hill day was the most awaited day of the trip, with the opportunity of talking to the Senator of California. The group informed and disseminated together the current situations in the state, such as the laws regarding vaping, marihuana use, as well as the positive use of narcan shots to protect kids overdosing. Lastly, the importance of directing culturally-sensitive information towards specific communities, to educate as many people as possible. All of the information was discussed in a 10 minute long-meeting, on the office of the Senator. 

“It was such a great opportunity to directly talk to the representative of our state, and expressed the worries I have for my community while referring to my personal experience”, stated Senior Kate Roeber. 

On the way back home, the plane was filled with excited whispers, picking apart anecdotes in extreme detail. At the end, the bond between the chaperones and coalition strengthened, and the youth came back to their communities with extended knowledge, ready to be the change they so excitedly desire to be.

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