Teens with NY State Senator Nathalia Fernandez

Town Hall Hosted by Pelham Together Youth Council

On Tuesday, April 30th, the Pelham Together Youth Council hosted a Town Hall at the Daronco Townhouse focused on connectedness and belonging among local youth. Annemarie Garcia, Director of Community Programs for Pelham Together, facilitated the event, and many local leaders, parents, school administrators, including Superintendent Dr. Champ, and elected officials, including NY State Senator Nathalia Fernandez, were in attendance. 

The teens began by sharing their work since the Town Hall in October 2023. Their first initiative was to partner with the Chamber of Commerce to plan for local venues to stay open at night for teens.  Dubbed “Pelham Late Night,” the first event, “Milkshakes & Music,” took place at Flour Power with many teens enjoying board games, music, and time with each other on a Friday night. The next event is being planned for J Cafe with a simple, prix fixe menu and late hours. The teens also described their participation in Mental Health Matters Day in Albany, advocating for youth mental health. They met with elected officials, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Fernandez, and talked about the desire for a Wellness Center in the high school/middle school complex as a way to centralize and elevate the people and resources available to them and their peers to address mental wellness.  They appreciated the importance of this unique opportunity to speak with officials in key positions, learned a great deal from the experience, and are inspired to continue their advocacy.

Closer to home, several teens described their participation with Siwanoy Elementary, where they met with 5th grade students to talk about the upcoming transition to middle school.  The teens used the creation of a “time capsule” to interact with the soon-to-be middle schoolers, hear about the 5th graders’ favorite memories of elementary school, and their expectations and concerns about middle school. The Youth Council high schoolers highlighted the importance of making peer to peer connections and being in a mentor/peer leader role, while some also really enjoyed giving back to their alma mater elementary school. 

Finally, the young people described their upcoming community event, Pelham Overnight, designed to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health. The teens are organizing teams of their peers to participate in an all-night walk on June 15th – 16th, on Ingalls field where the community will be welcome to join in activities at different reflection stations and collect resources on mental health and wellness. This idea also originated at the fall Town Hall.

When discussing the topics of connectedness and belonging, several school staff submitted their thoughts on elements of youth engagement that they’ve seen work extremely well, such as the power of community service, service learning and cross-group projects, athletic events as community events and the power of sports to rally the community as fans, and employment and mentoring relationships.  Conversation included how important it is for staff and adults in general to know kids by name, know and ask about things they are interested and involved in, and ultimately how important it is to engage kids at all ages to understand what really works and what doesn’t at fostering a sense of belonging. 

Attendees then split into smaller groups to discuss specific ways kids of different ages established a sense of connectedness and belonging, and how efforts could become on-going and recurring, as opposed to one-off events. Highlights include:  

• Expanding on events that already exist, such as inviting younger teams to high school varsity “Senior Nights”; 

• Connecting current high school students with Pelham HS alumni during holiday breaks;

• Working with Pelham Recreation to consider summer sports teams for recent graduates.

• Centralizing and communicating more widely about all Pelham events so the entire community can join in, creating widespread opportunity to support and connect; one idea was to install a digital sign that promotes school competitions and events that would benefit from community participation. 

Overall, it was another great night of having conversations with young people about how to make Pelham a better place, carving out a space for their ideas to expand with community input and support.  We’re grateful for everyone’s participation in the effort to establish youth-led conversation as a norm in our community, especially when it comes to rallying around an effort for every young person to feel as if they belong. See you at our next Town Hall in October 2024.