National Youth Advocacy and Resilience Conference has brought hundreds of youth advocates and professionals together every year since 1990 to encourage, inspire, and provide support for educators and adults who care for marginalized and at-risk youth. Typically hosted in Savannah, Georgia, NYAR hosted their very first virtual conference in 2021, which was a huge success. Despite the challenges associated with hosting a conference during a pandemic, the hosts and participants of NYAR praised its success.
March 2022 will see the #NYAR22 conference hosted once again in Savannah, Georgia. To learn more about the upcoming conference, as well as the history and vision for the future of NYAR, Georgia Southern’s Division of Continuing Education sat down with Dr. Alisa Leckie and Dr. Taylor Norman, co-directors of National Youth Advocacy & Resilience.
Q: What is NYAR?
Dr. Leckie: NYAR was founded over 30 years ago when the superintendent of Savannah- Chatham Schools, several community leaders, and faculty members from Georgia Southern got together to find a way to bring professionals together to meet the needs of youth in communities. Since then, it’s had an amazing and robust impact on the community and educators from around the country.
Dr. Norman: We wanted to bring a group of professionals together who serve youth and give them the space to professionally develop their craft and share stories with each other.
Dr. Leckie: It’s more than just schools. In order to really impact youth and the communities in which they live in, we have to look at all of those influences on a child’s life.
Dr. Norman: The 5-H strand was incorporated into NYAR because we wanted to make sure the holistic wellbeing of all children were served by the adults who advocated for and worked with them.
Q: What does Advocacy and Resilience mean?
Dr. Leckie: The conference’s original name, “National Youth-At-Risk” was revised last year for a number of reasons. We had been in conversation as professionals and faculty members of Georgia Southern for a long time about the deficit label of the “At-Risk” portion of our conference.
Dr. Norman: While we were having conversations with the students and youth who we serve through the conference, we came to find out that they took issue with the “At-Risk” title. And that made us start thinking about why we call them that.
Dr. Leckie: While we don’t want to sugarcoat the realities that many of our youth live in, we really want to focus on and recognize the resilience that our students and our youth have and the advocacy work that the adults do to serve and support the youth that they work with.
Dr. Norman: So we took those large steps to show that resilience and that advocacy is what the conference is all about.
Dr. Leckie: We’re not out there to fix the youth, we’re there to advocate for and support the youth, many of whom are doing amazing things in their communities.
Dr. Norman: The change in the name is also connected to a vision that we have to take the conference proceeds and the wonderful research we collect at the conference and bring it into the communities and make sure that those adults who serve those youth are not only supported for three days in Savannah, but 365 days of the year.
Q: What impact does NYAR have?
Dr. Leckie: It’s really challenging to quantify how NYAR has impacted the local and regional communities. Even in the state of Georgia and our local areas, like Savannah-Chatham, the number of teachers and professionals to attend our conference every year is astounding, and we have found some ways to take proceeds from the conference and re-invest them into the communities which we serve, from drive-through community care fairs, to bringing in speakers to work with youth and adults. We really want the impact of the conference to last beyond the conference.
Dr. Norman: We were also able to find a way to create a critical resource award that we’ve been able to invest in several school corporations just here near us and we hope to bring that nationally within the next five years.
Q: Are there any specific programs you’ve started that re-invest into communities?
Dr. Leckie: The Critical Resource Award really builds on the work that we’re already doing to recognize schools. Our High Flying Schools awards are a national recognition for schools that are making big impacts with traditionally marginalized student populations.
Dr. Norman: This year, we decided to launch a new sort of award where students will be able to submit their artwork, about their resilience and their advocacy for themselves, and we’re calling that NYARt.
Dr. Leckie: I can’t wait to see this year’s winners and all the submissions that are sure to come in.
Q: What does NYAR mean to you?
Dr. Leckie: I still remember my first NYAR conference. It was such a dramatically different experience than the traditional professional conferences that I had attended. The energy level, the positivity, the excitement, and the engagement from practitioners from all over the country were inspiring.
Dr. Norman: And as two adults who did serve youth in our former professional lives, it means so much to me that we are able to give back to adults who serve the youth as we did.
Dr. Leckie: We’d leave each conference engaged, excited, energized, ready to tackle the rest of the school year and beyond.
Dr. Norman: Thinking about the end of the virtual conference last year, everybody still signed on for that final meeting, just to say goodbye to each other. You even see that energy in virtual space too.
Q: What can attendees expect from NYAR?
Dr. Leckie: I think we also want our attendees to leave with that sense of connectedness. That is always one of the outcomes of the conference: from the hugs, and the cheers, and the smiles, and that engaged collaborative spirit; we are all part of a community that is out serving and advocating for you and we want people to leave knowing they are part of something bigger and not solely operating in their individual spheres.
Dr. Norman: And even if that connectedness looks like we’re under masks and we’re not hugging but instead fist bumping, we are still together, sharing in that feeling of being together, after having entered three days prior, feeling separated.
Posted in Advance Magazine