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Conference on healthy youth focuses on promotion of character, values


About 200 community leaders, parents and youths gathered in Westminster yesterday to discuss "creating a community where young people thrive," an attempt to strengthen and promote assets such as caring, integrity, restraint and responsibility that are key to communication and learning.

The daylong regional conference attracted leaders and officials from Harford, Howard, Baltimore, Allegany and Frederick counties. It was sponsored by Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County Inc., which promotes a "Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth" initiative developed by the Search Institute in Minneapolis.

The institute has identified 40 assets that would help young people make sound decisions. In many respects, these assets mirror the character traits - such as perseverance, responsibility and trustworthiness - that Carroll County public schools and the county commissioners are trying to encourage in students and government workers.

"The character trait of the month is perseverance, or determination, which is appropriate because I think if we persevere, we will achieve our goal," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier told conference participants yesterday. "I believe we can make our community an even better one ... if we just change Carroll County one person at a time, beginning with you and beginning with me."

When they took office in 1998, the commissioners drafted goals for their four-year term, calling for a "focus on youth and families" to "reduce the risk of crime and substance abuse."

In an effort to achieve that goal, the three-member board supported the creation of ACTIVE - Adults and Children Together Improving Values and Ethics - Alliance. The alliance aims to strengthen Carroll County families through programs ranging from faith-based marriage counseling to greater availability of long-term care for substance users.

Several members of the alliance attended the conference at Martin's Westminster yesterday.

"The purpose of the conference is to help people understand asset building and the role that everyone can play in that, from young people to adults," said Patricia Supik, executive director of Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County and a member of the alliance's executive committee. "Our goal is to give young people visibility and a voice so they can build on the strengths they have."

Charles I. Ecker, interim superintendent of Carroll County public schools, and Bonnie Kirkland, special secretary for the governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, were among the participants urged by keynote speaker Darvin Ayre to "focus on building positive relationships."

"We have to think about change differently if we're going to be effective," said Ayre, a principal partner in Community Initiatives Inc. of Colorado, a group of professionals dedicated to helping businesses, service organizations and government leaders create healthy communities.

"Asset building is about building relationships," he said. "It is not about spending a lot of money. It is not about doing things in terms of programs and projects."

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