Local youth groups to attend Impact 2013 youth conference

Hundreds of high school students from Carroll County will join thousands from the the mid-Atlantic region in Ocean City Friday for a spiritually-focused weekend.

Approximately 3,000 high school students and youth leaders will attend Impact 2013: Beneath the Surface Youth Conference Friday through Sunday at the Ocean City Convention Center, organized by Metro Maryland Youth for Christ.

More than 20 years ago, the seminar began as a youth leadership conference. Now the conference is open to any student who would like to attend, just as long as they are accompanied by an adult leader, according to Bob Arnold, executive director of Metro Maryland Youth for Christ and co-founder of the conference.

"This is a way to really talk to them about the value of having God in their life," he said.

Youth For Christ is a religious organization that reaches out to young people and works with local churches and other like-minded partners to raise up lifelong followers of Jesus who lead by their godliness in lifestyle, devotion to the word of God and prayer, passion for sharing the love of Christ and commitment to social involvement, according to its website.

The organization also holds a middle school youth conference called Alive.

The Impact conference's workshops and activities are specially designed to help high-schoolers deal with common issues in their lives, such as drugs, sexuality and suicide, Arnold said.

"We believe Jesus can empower them to be leaders and make a difference," he said.

Gary Grecco, executive director for Mason Dixon Youth for Christ, said he is taking more than 150 children and youth leaders from Carroll County to the conference.

In addition, upward of 10 other groups from the county will be attending, he said.

"It's really a life-changing event," Grecco said.

He has been a part of the conference since it began and helps make adjustments each year to bring thoughtful presenters and bands to the conference that will interest the students.

"We create a program that is very youth friendly no matter what their background is," he said.

Each topic - including college and career goals, pregnancy or life direction - is discussed in terms of what the Bible says about those issues.

Grecco hopes students walk away with tools that will help them for years to come.

"What you learn can radically change you and your friends forever," he said.

Arnold said the conference not only provides valuable information for students, but also offers training sessions for adult youth leaders.

"We bring in people so that when the leaders leave and go back, they're trained so they'll be more effective with their kids," he said.

But the conference itself is more about what the students learn from it, according to adult youth leader Ryan Ridgely, of Westminster.

He's been going for six years. This year, he's taking a group of students from Mason-Dixon Youth for Christ and Grace Fellowship Chapel in Westminster.

While the children enjoy the weekend because of the fun activities, such as an American Idol singing competition or laser tag, it's a great way to build relationships with youth people, Ridgely said.

Youth leaders can be a shoulder to cry on or someone to give advice when children need to turn to someone outside of their family. The Impact conference is a good way to get students out of their normal routines so they will allow themselves to be vulnerable, he said.

"It gets kids more willing to discuss things maybe they wouldn't otherwise," Ridgely said.

Jennifer Dawson, a senior at Francis Scott Key High School, said she has been going to the Impact conference for four years. Before that, she attended Alive - the middle school conference - for three years.

She enjoys spending the weekend hanging out with people from her youth group at Uniontown Bible Church in Union Bridge and meeting other religious teenagers, she said.

"It renews my faith and it gets me going again," she said.

Last year, she particularly enjoyed a "girls only" session about self-esteem. It taught her that even though there is pressure to look and dress a certain way in high school, it's OK not to. Instead, girls should be confident and see themselves the way God sees them, Dawson said.

"It's really encouraging to meet and see all these other high school believers that are striving for the same thing I am," she said.

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