The 2023 Spring hybrid conference was a HUGE success. May 5-7, 2023, Project LIFE hosted a Statewide Youth Conference in the Eastern region with in-person and virtual participants. This conference was located in Virginia Beach, VA at the Virginia Beach Holiday Inn Conference Center. 60 youth participated in-person and additional youth participated through Zoom. Out of the total 64 youth that attended, all five regions were represented.
The theme of this conference was “Dream LIFE Plaza,” with specific hands-on and interactive life skills workshops connecting the youth to a real-life and practical experience approach. We provided an incentive-based Plaza Perks money system to simulate an economic system throughout the weekend.
Learning Activities and Workshops
On Friday night, youth participated in an interactive real-life simulation called the Reality Store, where they were able to experience adult situations as they prepare for the real world. Youth were given designated job/careers, living arrangements, and different family dynamics. They were responsible for the “money” they spent. The way they spent their money determined what funds they had currently and what they was able to budget for later on in life.
Then they transitioned into a block of time where they participated in self-care activities with ways to manage with stress and develop new coping skills in a safe space. One activity was a yoga class using a sound healing and vibration to calm the mind of stress. Another choice was an art session to provide another outlet for youth to channel their energy through creative painting. Youth could also attend a self-defense activity to learn ways to manage crises, de-escalate situations without using physical force, protect their personal space, and develop new coping skills.
We hosted two advocacy opportunities in the weekend. One was VDSS‘ feedback forum and open discussion with the youth. Youth were able to interact with Family Services Director Nikole Cox during this session. The other was through the SPEAKOUT youth advocacy group with VDSS. SPEAKOUT presented a Youth Welfare Approach overview to the youth sharing ways that they can be more involved in their own permanency planning.
Workshops for Youth 17 and Younger
Youth participated in a healthy relationships workshop presented by Team LIVE. They were provided tools to identify triggers in toxic relationships with peers. Youth were also able to identify supportive adults and coping skills to manage their stress.
Their second workshop was about employment and job readiness, presented by Together We Can Foundation. Youth were provided tools to boost their visibility in the workforce and learned about the pitfalls of social media for job recruitment.
Workshops for Youth 18 and Older
Youth participated in an education and career exploration workshop with The College Place program. Youth completed a education/career inventory assessment for personalized feedback and to connect their education to future career paths.
Their second workshop of the afternoon covered financial literacy and was presented by Dollar Bank. The Presenters shared ways to navigate real-life scenarios when purchasing a car and home, as well as how to budget their monthly expenses.
Community Engagement and Fun!
To increase community engagement, we hosted a vendor fair called Vendor Village where youth could visit and learn more about eight different local community resources. Participating vendors were the US Air Force, US Navy, First Start Academy (ODU program), Molina, United Healthcare, SPEAKOUT (VDSS), IMPACT IL program, and New Vision Youth Services.
On Saturday afternoon, all attendees participated in an etiquette workshop. Youth learned how to communicate during formal dinner events, how to use to appropriate silverware and set the table, and the formal attire expectations for these events. The Caring Closet provided an array of formal and professional clothes that youth could peruse and choose one outfit from to take home. They got the chance to try out these new skills during a formal dinner and “dress your dream” dance party.
As a youth engagement and fun activity, youth participated in a bowling outing. Everyone loaded up on busses, many of which were driven by local volunteers, and headed to the bowling alley. While there, everyone had lunch and got to have fun! Everyone (youth and volunteers together!) enjoyed the social time with their peers and built new connections with each other.
Key People and Next Time
Everyone had fun, and it was only made possible through everyone’s efforts. Thank you to DSS workers, transporters, facilitators, and ESPECIALLY to our volunteers.
Hosting the conference allowed all in attendance to enjoy the in-person connectedness we have been missing through virtual learning these last few years. There were many warm hearts, hilarious, and tearful moments. Though many people met on Friday evening, it was hard to say goodbye on Sunday morning.
If you missed this one, we hope to see you at the next one. We host statewide youth conferences twice a year, and the next one will be in the Fall. Be sure to visit our conference page for more info as it is released.