CENTRAL VALLEY - It's no small task to gather over 100 7th and 8th grade students to sit attentively in classrooms on a Sunday afternoon in April. Hearing about bullying and peer pressure, friendships and relations, eating disorders, and the dangers of substance abuse may not be every teenager's idea of how to spend a weekend. However, that is exactly what occurred at the Monroe-Woodbury High School on April 24, at the annual Teen Mission Conference. The day was topped off with a lively wrap-up party of entertainment, dinner, prizes, and dancing. The day exceeded the crowd's expectations. The conference program was planned by the students themselves. Some of the highlights included a riveting presentation by Jack Zacara, a diversity trainer, entitled "Hate Comes Home" addressing issues of bullying and peer pressure. James Wiener, a certified social worker, led a panel of high school students effectively dramatizing various friendship and relationship pitfalls through play acting. Beth Marks, a clinical social worker, reviewed the general origins of eating disorders and how they can be avoided. As he led a group of recovering addicts openly discussing the dangers of substance abuse based on personal experiences, psychotherapist Jerry Sanders commented to the audience that "alcohol is involved with more deaths in your age group than all other drugs combined". "Through Teen Mission we realize that doing good and being involved is not only worthwhile, but fun. I've learned a lot about myself and about how happy I can make others," commented Brittany Edwards. Teen Mission was created in the wake of the Columbine tragedy by Rosann Scorcia-Ruggiero when her son Nicholas expressed a concern echoed among his peer groups throughout the country; that teenagers needed to talk, be heard, and connect with the community. This need was recently expressed by the author Mark Kurlanskly in a highly acclaimed book, "1968, the Year that Rocked the World." Mr. Kurlansky explained that the events of 1968 gave the "sense of hope
the sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it." By contrast, students today frequently feel that they are not being heard, and subsequently do not feel a sense of individual empowerment. Teen Mission effectively addresses this concern. Teen Mission soon connected with the Youth Bureau and Jewish Family Services to form a group "For Teens, By Teens." Since its inception, the students have brought their upbeat spirit and commitment to a myriad of community projects, including sprucing up Museum Village, collection for the Salvation Army, Clean Sweep, the Homeless Shelter, and M-W Rotary. In addition to providing a meaningful experience, Teen Mission encourages friendship and camaraderie, and eases the transition to high school. The local community came through and helped to make this year a huge success. Cited for their support were the Orange County Health Department, Monroe Mayor's Office, Monroe Police Department, Dana Distributors, Monroe-Woodbury Middle School, the PTA, Monroe-Woodbury Rotary Club, Monroe Ford, and Nepera. Individuals recognized for their efforts with Teen Mission included Roseann Scorcia-Ruggiero, Debbie Mason-Ruggiero, Mary Marley, Charles Pakula, Iris Sandow, Liz Kadesh, Paul LoBianco, Matt DiGiovanni, and Gloria Retountios. Brittany Edwards, Justin Morgan, Jennifer Maher, Katherine Maher, Marie Mitchell, K.C. Sargent, Kevon Weinman, Jessica Gonzales, Siobhan Rodriguez were part of the hard working student planning committee. Students entering the 7th and 8th grades in the fall who are interested in becoming involved with Teen Mission should contact Roseann Ruggiero at 224-5277.