An Experience of a Lifetime

IM SO HI Above the Influence Youth Leader, Kevin Dang, shares his experience attending the 27th National Leadership Forum & SAMHSA's 13th Prevention Day

My feet were on fire because it was THAT cold!  The chilling breezes and low temperatures was actually a spectacular feeling as we got to take a break from our warm and sunny weather. This trip changed many aspects of myself that I never really thought about.  I was able to meet with my family from the area, meet amazing youths from around the nation, and learn many helpful ideas. After experiencing this amazing opportunity, I feel like a changed person.  

CADCA, Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, orchestrated a three day training event that brought people from around the nation together. From youths, coalition representatives, prevention specialists, to policymakers, faith-based leaders, law enforcement professionals and education institutes, everyone was able to learn about certain topics that interested them. Held at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in Washington D.C., there were plenty of workshops to attend. Each workshop had a speaker discussing information and facts about topics related to mental health, tobacco, marijuana, alcohol and advocacy.  

Group discussions often came about and it was interesting to learn about other communities, the troubles they face and how they are dealing with it.  An example is a community in Louisiana. They had an issue with electronic cigarettes and vape, so they fought and stood together to get an ordinance passed, banning the use of electronic cigarettes in nonsmoking zones, just like regular cigarettes. Another community was trying to ban flavored juice for e-cigs as many flavors are set to appeal to people causing more interest in vaping.  Hearing about how other communities are dealing with their issues inspired many other coalitions to use some of their ideas to help their own communities.  

The National Youth Leadership Initiative was a part of the CADCA program.  Gathering several youths from each state and bringing them together to educate them on topics such as public speaking, advocacy, and key essentials of being a leader. Anjelina (another Hawaii youth selected to go to CADCA), and I were a part of the advocacy and public speaking sessions. We learned many things such as elevator speeches and a new strategy to advocate called FRAMING, an acronym that stands for Facts (to support your cause), Reduce to 1 page (keeping it short),  Anecdotes (personal connections to make it more powerful), Map Out Strategies (planning out how to connect your points), and Engage Champions (identifying who you want to join in on the same issue). Advocacy is the action of supporting a cause and educating others about the cause. They taught us to not lobby politicians at Capitol Hill, but to advocate and educate them about our issues. 

After going through our youth training, we used the knowledge we learned when meeting with Senators and Representatives at Capitol Hill. It was absolutely nerve racking but felt extremely good after letting the politician know everything I wanted to say. I felt more and more confident after each word. I talked about who I was, a little about our community, our issue on marijuana and alcohol use and their stand and opinions on it.  It felt reassuring after hearing that our Senator and Representative are on our side and fighting towards what we are too. 

Meeting the other youths was such a fun and life changing event.  Seeing how ambitious and driven my fellow youths were helped make me want to take a bigger role in our community.  I made bonds and connections with many people I continue to keep in touch.  Being able to put myself out there socially by interacting with them made me more confident in my people skills as many of the youth liked having my company and outgoing personality.  The Maui and Ohio youths in particular were such amazing people.  In such a short time, we developed a wonderful bond together and will continue to keep in touch, hopefully meeting up in the future.  I'm glad Anjelina and I were able to make such amazing friends. 

This trip allowed me to experience so many things in such a short amount of time.  I was able to spend time with my family for two days, learn many new ideas and information, and inspired me to make a change.  I also am more motivated academically, athletically, and basically becoming a better person after meeting all my new friends from around the nation.  Thank you for such an amazing opportunity.