The annual Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Leadership Conference was Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at the Kallet Civic Center in Oneida. About 70 students and their advisors from different schools across Madison County attended.

Ty Sells, the keynote speaker from Youth to Youth International in Ohio, has over 22 years of experience in drug prevention and community services. Through his talk titled, the Power of Acceptance, he shared why he decided to be drug and alcohol free. He encouraged teens to make healthy choices in regard to using substances, not dwelling on the negative consequences, but pointing out the long-term benefits. He also talked about how it is perfectly acceptable to make the choice to stay or become substance free. It is often unpopular to make positive choices about drugs, alcohol and tobacco, yet the students that are “cool” now, have no problem promoting what they do. And he reminded students that what is cool always changes.

Ty also challenged students to look at the way they treat others who are different from them. Whether it is a school mate that sits alone at lunch every day or a basketball player with autism, the positive impact of inclusion is what makes a difference in making our schools a better place. The way that we treat others in school, at the mall or in our community, can influence the choices that they make.

Marla Velky-Reger, social worker and fitness instructor, facilitated by guiding students to come up with individual action plans about what they learned from Ty. The students and their advisors worked to bring the message back to their schools by doing meaningful activities to spread positivity, acceptance and inclusion.

Some of the action plans included putting sticky notes all over the school with positive messages and inspirational quotes and having a Positivity Week involving the community with photos and signs in town posted to Instagram.

The Madison County Office of the Sheriff and BRiDGES, through a problem gambling prevention grant funded by the NY Council on Problem Gambling, sponsored the Leadership Conference. All public and parochial schools in the county were invited to attend the day at no cost to their school districts.

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