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2014 Youth Retreat

The theme for the 2014 Older Retreat was "We Are Infinite." The Older Youth Retreat has a yearlong process that could not be done without the steering committee. It was great to be a part of the steering committee and work with other youth and staff to plan out the entire week of the retreat. It is a great way to bring out leadership skills and teach youth other skills such as organization and the planning process that goes into creating such a fulfilled week! The hard work pays off when the time comes to enjoy the week with everyone else.

It was great being a co-facilitator and being able to watch the bond of the peer groups grow, especially as the youth were able to relate and connect with each other. It is just truly amazing watching the youth come out of their comfort zones, make new friends, and become leaders so quickly. Everyone worked together and was very supportive during the peer group session games, such as cross the line.

The youth first noticed that just like they are infinite so were the countless amounts of activities that they could take part in during the week. There were activities for everyone such as all different sports, card and board games, movies, a variety of creative painting activities, hip hop dance, music expression, and of course the famous creative field day event. Along with all the great fun that everyone was having it was great to hear from Jamari, an older youth who was in the hash tag meet the kids and was adopted at the age of 20. And I can't forget Richard Santana who was the guest speaker. The youth loved his authenticity when he talked about his past experiences. Because the youth were able to relate to Mr. Santana, they really listened to his message about perseverance, drugs, and sex.

The retreat is such an amazing opportunity for youth to get to experience, from staying on a college campus to engaging in so many different activities. A comment that I will never forget that was made by a youth was, "For a week I was able to call this retreat my home". Between all the memories that are made and all the knowledge that the youth gain in learning about themselves and older youth resources are infinite! The youth left the retreat feeling more empowered, confident, and of course infinite!

Demara' M. Williams
Youth Ambassador for the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center


2014 Youth Retreat Video
2014 Youth Retreat Slideshow

2013 Youth Retreat

The 2013 Independent Living Youth Retreat was a success! From all the planning that the youth on the Retreat Steering committee did, as well as the collaboration with the adults, the week was a hit! The youth really came together to plan the curriculum and really worked hard in their roles as leaders at the retreat to make it a positive and fun experience. The theme of the 2013 Youth Retreat was "United Not Divided"; A phrase that we all derive our own meaning from. This year we had 98 youth from all across Pennsylvania, as well as help and facilitation from 102 supporting county staff and agency workers.

When the week came to a close on Friday, you could tell that many of them had found their meaning of what "United Not Divided" meant to them. From the scavenger hunt on the first day that aimed to have the youth interact with one another, to the Minute-to-Win-It morning warm up game, the youth began to build friendships and bonds that carried out through the week. They also had group activities, and classroom sessions to participate in different activities such as fun furniture, outdoor experience, music expression and so many other things.

Throughout the week, the youth were able to interact, be leaders and just have fun! There was a dance, pool party, talent show and a banquet! This year's keynote speaker was Travis Lloyd. Throughout Travis' message, he spoke about the youth taking charge of their lives, asking for help, stepping up to pursue their dreams and bettering their futures, despite the environments that they come from. Travis's favorite quote that he repeated many times to the youth throughout his presentation was "I'ma get it anyway, Anyway I'ma get it!" He was engaging, fun, interactive and really seemed to enjoy his time hanging out with the youth. The week came to a close and although many were sad to walk away from the new friends they had made, many were also glad to sleep in their own beds. So many memories were created, friendships made and the meaning of "United Not Divided" poured out through the smiles of all the youth.

What a great retreat we had this year, but the fun doesn't stop; planning has begun for Youth Retreat 2014! Octavia Lacks Youth Ambassador for the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center


2013 Youth Retreat Video HD
2013 Youth Retreat Slide Show

2012 IL Youth Retreat
This has been yet another successful year for the Independent Living Youth Retreat at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.  The theme of the 2012 Youth Retreat was C.L.A.I.M. – Changing Lives – Advancing Your Independent Memories, “We’re taking over…”  Without a doubt, the theme of this year was achieved.  Lives were changed, memories were made, and we took over!  Not only did the youth literally take over the Johnstown campus, but many of them took over their own lives, successes, and futures.  They also overtook many challenges and adventures in the week’s activities, PEER sessions, and advocacy opportunities.

Just like every year, there were a variety of activities to be involved in.  From the more athletic Outdoor Experience, to the expressive Theatre or Fun Furniture, to the tasty Discover Your Inner Chef, there were opportunities for both the experienced and inexperienced to learn new things, make friendships, and have the time of their lives!  These were just a few of the activities available but they each had their own lessons and memories in store.  I personally, had the privilege to be involved in the Express Yourself, Through Painting activity, where the youth and staff created a banner bearing the theme of the Retreat.  This year’s banner proudly states, “We are a community that wants to CLAIM our success”, which shows the unity and motivation inspired by the Retreat!

There were also opportunities for youth to advocate for themselves and their peers.  Youth found their voices in the focus groups during PEER sessions and discussed what living arrangements would be best for them; what areas would help them to be the most successful; and what rules and guidelines should be in the living situations.  Many great ideas were brought up and agreed upon during these groups.  Youth also had the opportunity to learn about the new Fostering Connections Law, provide feedback, and make recommendations about what would be helpful for youth reentering care.  These ideas were then pitched to stakeholders by peer facilitators and a youth.  It was such a powerful and impacting way for the youth voice to be heard and to make a difference.

Throughout the week, many friendships were built and much fun was had.  From the pool night, and the dance, to my personal favorite – the talent show, there was something for any of the diverse personalities and interests represented by the youth.  The keynote speaker, Kevin Brown, at this year’s banquet, further celebrated and highlighted the individuality of the youth and showed us how to claim our labels.  Though you may be stereotyped or labeled, when you claim your own identity you create your own brand for yourself.  It was an awesome message to take back from the week.

The week ended with many excited to go take a nap but, at the same time, wishing they didn’t have to go.  However, just because the week ended, it didn’t mean that the experience wasn’t lasting.  Youth made connections that will last forever, whether it was with their peers that they didn’t have to explain themselves to, or connections to their own hopes and dreams and how to claim them.  This Retreat was amazing and has left us in anticipation for what we have to claim ahead of us!

Greta Weiss
Youth Ambassador for the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center


2012 Youth Retreat Video HD
2012 Youth Retreat Slide Show