Youth groups from Western New York left early last Monday morning to meet with teens from all over New York State at the 2013 Albany Youth Leadership Forum, held by the Association of New York State Youth Bureaus.

After a six-hour bus ride, Western New York teens arrived at the Capitol and first listened to keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Birchak. He spoke about making choices and teens using their voices.

“One of the stories he shared was so moving tears filled my eyes,” says Miranda Lefebvre, an eighth-grader at Sweet Home Middle School. “He made it fun and funny, even though at times it was serious.”

Afterward, everyone split up to attend different workshops, which focused on a variety of topics including asset building, dating violence, leadership and Internet safety.

“I liked how interactive it was,” says Olivia Iannotti, a student at Ursuline High School in New Rochelle, who attended the dating violence workshop. “It got us all involved.”

“I liked presenting,” says Adrianna Soucy, a freshman at Williamsville North High School. “It was cool getting a different perspective.” Adrianna helped run the asset building workshop along with other members of the Amherst Youth Consortium. The workshop taught about the assets that are the building blocks for healthy youth development.

After dinner at the hotel, students participated in an open mic coffeehouse. Everyone was given the opportunity to perform with the chance of winning a group or solo prize.

“I loved seeing different talents and how diverse people are,” says Kendyl Kratzer, a freshman at Buffalo Seminary.

On Tuesday morning the teens went to a Legislative breakfast, and some had the chance to meet their assemblymen.

The Amherst Youth Consortium met with Assemblyman Raymond Walter of Amherst. Tuesdays are lobby days at the Capitol, so it was a busy day for the legislators.

“Meeting our assemblyman was an honor, even though it was short,” says Miranda. “[We] still met with him and talked to him.”

Some teens had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Capitol. While some went self-guided, others were led by a tour guide and were able to learn the history of the building.

“I enjoyed the attention to detail,” says Matt Ciminella, a junior at Sweet Home High School.

“It was very interesting to see the different artifacts and architecture,” says Miranda. “It was a very beautiful place.”

Teens left the forum with many new experiences. They learned about many aspects of leadership through the workshops, the keynote speaker and their legislators: Good leaders need to care, to listen, to get involved and to lead by example. While it was also a chance to make friends, the forum enabled teens to understand the role they will play in the future.

“I received phenomenal exposure to the general Albany area,” says Matt. “I was able to grow as a person and learned how to help better my community.”

“We are going to be the next adults. If we don’t get involved soon it will be our problem,” says Olivia. “Adults aren’t going to listen to us unless we give them reason to.”

Melanie Izard is a sophomore at Sweet Home High School.

“Meeting our assemblyman was an honor, even though it was short.”

– Miranda Lefebvre, eighth-grader, Sweet Home Middle School