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Teen leadership summit puts focus on mental health to tackle challenges facing youth

The Crowley Foundation hopes teens will take what they learn with them back to their communities

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong with the world these days.

Inside a hotel ballroom in Fort Collins, solutions are the focus.          

"A lot of the times when the problems are displayed, you never see any real solutions," said Jasiri Grimes, a college student attending the the Crowley Foundation Leadership Summit. "It’s complaining about the problems, it’s feeling sad and mad about the problems, but it’s never a lot of moving forward."

Solutions to some of the most challenging obstacles teenagers face are worth talking about and figuring out -- problems like gun violence, bullying, depression and family relationships. 

Kenneth Crowley II starts by teaching the dozens of young men in attendance to be vulnerable.  

"We are all bound by something, whether it be childhood trauma, self-doubt, our goal here is to break chains and have breakthroughs for these young men," said Crowley, the program's director. "Black men are not taught to be vulnerable."

There are few leadership conferences that start with yoga outside every morning. That’s how the week began Monday up in Fort Collins. The Crowley Foundation says it’s to put a focus on mental health and getting your mind in the right place.

"This is the difference between life and death, literally. Without a program like this, without a support system and a brotherhood, these young kings parish," said Crowley. "It feels good to be seen and be loved."

There are teens from as far as Oklahoma City here this week. The goal is for them to go home and spread what they learned with their own communities.

"The point of leadership isn’t to create more followers, but to create more leaders. And that’s what the Crowley foundation does well. We are creating leaders in the community right now," said Eugene Buckman Jr., a leadership summit facilitator and leader. "I want them to take these tools, these tangible items, take them back to their communities so that they can understand that they love themselves."

They talk about challenges and talk about mental health.

"We learn, we grow together, and that’s really what stuck with me," said Chase Scott, a 16-year-old from Denver. "It’s really important that we do, because that’s a way that not only we will grow, but the community will grow and the generation will grow."

In a conference room focused on creating leaders, those leaders go home and change communities.

"If you’re not able to be vulnerable with yourself, yet alone other people, you trap a lot of stuff inside," said Grimes. "If you’re not taking care of your mental health, how do you expect to take care of your siblings, your cousins, your parents, you can’t do any of that until you take care of yourself."

The Crowley Foundation only charges $100 for the entire week, but many get scholarships to attend. They want to make sure everyone who wants to go has the opportunity to take part. 

The Crowley Foundation was also one of the first organizations Next with Kyle Clark featured on Word of Thanks, and so many people at home made it possible for them to continue hosting these conferences.

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