We are the Youth Leaders of Prince of Wales, a group of teens consisting of ages from 12-17 that are part of a Youth Leadership Program run by the Prince of Wales Health Network in Southeast Alaska. We are a combined group from the nine communities across the length of the island and are empowered to be “change agents” and help with the alcohol and substance misuse that ravages our island and destroys our families.
We are an extremely active group that takes pride in our actions and activities in our communities, such as youth-led and organized dinners, and community youth-led projects, including creating street signs, cleaning up communities, honoring elders with assistance, and volunteering time and aid for families in need and non-profit organizations. We also performed a 150-mile bike ride across the island to raise money for a family in need who had lost their parent to cancer. But our focus is creating a safe future and environment with bringing awareness to the problematic issue of drug and alcohol misuse that surrounds us.
We have dedicated a large quantity of time, effort, and funding into events and activities that we feel have made an impact on the island. We have helped organize marches against opioid addictions, attended conferences, and assisted in dinner and events that promoted recovery from addictions. We have created space for people in long-term recovery to tell their stories, promoted awareness as peers in the schools, and acted as mentors.
Our group was organized to give us a voice, and the recognition that we aren’t prepared to stand on the sidelines and watch as our homes and futures are dictated by drugs and our families are destroyed. We are young, but we are fierce. We feel we can help/ have helped to bring awareness to the upcoming generation that we have an issue that shouldn’t be hidden, and there is no shame but only support for those that have had addictions and are wanting to stop. There is more support and are more resources than one knows in our communities, through your neighbors, and with your friends and families. We demonstrated that in our Recovery Festival. It was an event that we devised as a group that would incorporate an inclusive family atmosphere and interests that we felt would allow entire families to attend. We released memorial lanterns at the end as a powerful message for those lost to addiction.
Our next large event that we are planning is a 3-day island Recovery and awareness walk, that we hope to have drug and alcohol-related statistics marked along the roadside, aid stations, and open for people to walk and join in showing their support.
We continue on our journey to bring focus and awareness to the island’s devastation while bringing a hopeful vision of what we know our communities can be by giving our youth and others a voice and recognition to overcome and assist. We feel like we make a difference. We feel we have a voice. We feel empowered to move forward. We stand as role models for others. We stand as “change agents” for the future of our island, communities, and families. We are prepared to act as advocates and help teach the younger generations how to do the same.