Published on December 3rd, 2014 | by Burlington Partnership


Helping teens live “Above the Influence”

On November 14th and 15th, 50 students from 4 high schools in Chittenden County attended an overnight retreat at Smugglers Notch Resort to connect with other teens making a commitment to live above the negative influences of drugs and alcohol and support healthy choices in their communities. Our coalition sponsored 21 teens from Burlington High School connected with the school’s Students Taking Action and Risks Together (BHS START) prevention group to attend.

Attendees felt the energy said BHS sophomore Noah Smith, “The retreat always had us doing something with a different set of people…I loved meeting new people and getting connected.”

Local prevention coalitions engaged in the Chittenden Prevention Network (CPN), including the Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community (BPHC), have recognized the urgent need for teenagers in our area to connect with other peers choosing to live substance free lifestyles. We pooled our funding, time and resources to create this retreat which focused on empowering youth to be leaders for change and support their peers to make healthy decisions. What better way to reduce the costs of substance abuse and the harmful effects on youth than by engaging teens in creating the solution!


Our Director, Mariah Sanderson, said of the retreat, “It is really important for kids to feel valued by their community for who they are and what they contribute. We have helped provide annual retreats for youth for 3 years now because we think it is important to involve youth in the process of creating lasting change in our community. And we want to give them opportunities to learn new and fun ways to be ambassadors for a healthy substance free lifestyle.”

The retreat used messaging, images, and activities created by Above the Influence, a national campaign that encourages youth to stay true to who they are and live life substance free. Youth leaders, including BHS students; Tian Berry, Noah Smith and Will Orndorf; led peer-designed activities. Attendees heard from media literacy consultant Rob Williams connections between social media and positive self-image, and Burlington High School Student Assistance Professional, Margo Austin, on marijuana education. The participants role-played ways to discuss challenging topics with peers and how to be supportive and connect peers to caring adults when appropriate.

BHS senior Tian Berry said of the experience, “At the retreat I learned there is another community outside of Burlington that I fit into. I learned lots of good information, but there was so much energy it felt like a really big party! I will use everything I learned to raise awareness in my school and increase leadership in my community.”

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