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Youth Conference brings networking, support and information to kids, most from Genesee County

By Joanne Beck
Suicide Prevention workshop
Katelyn Zufall, second from right, of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, leads a suicide prevention workshop during the Rainbow Resilience youth conference Friday at Genesee Community College in Batavia. Makenzie Rich, a Batavia High School junior seated to Zufall's left, said the day was "amazing" and informational.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Makenzie Rich was one of more than 70 middle and high school students to attend Friday’s Rainbow Resilience Youth Conference in an effort to not only gain more information and understanding about mental health and potential suicide issues as part of the LBGTQ community but also to help others struggling with similar issues, she says.

"There's a lot of youth struggling, especially in the LGBTQ-plus community. Everyone needs help, eventually. And it's important to know that you can ask for help. And there are people that are willing to help you as long as you're willing to reach out,” Makenzie, 17, said during a break from a suicide prevention workshop at Genesee Community College. “Today's amazing, it turned out really nice. We had a big group of participants. The workshops, I think, are very informational. It's a lot of help and just things that you wouldn't really realize in daily life.”

Katelyn Zufall was conducting the suicide prevention workshop, and was pointing out “some of the little things that you wouldn’t see to realize when someone is struggling and how you can help them by realizing those little signs,” Makenzie said. She offered some suggestions for what one can do if concerned about another person’s mental status.

“Just checking on your friends, checking on your family. Little signs, like they're giving away things that are important to them. They're just, all of a sudden, extra happy after seeming kind of gloomy for a while. Just check in,” she said. “And anyone that you are comfortable talking to, just check in with anyone.”

Bottom line: open communication is “super important,” she said. 

Zufall reviewed a list of Dos and Don’ts, such as Do validate the person’s feelings, ask if you can help, be patient and let them know you care. Don’t interrupt or speak over the person, tell how they should feel, jump in with solutions, be scared of their feelings or critical and blaming.

Open about her own identity as a lesbian, Makenzie, a junior at Batavia High School, has had her own family struggles, she said. 

“Not everyone in my family is super supportive,” she said. “But with GLOW Out!, I have a great support system. And I have a lot of friends that I am very thankful for. And people that I can reach out to. But family was a big struggle for me for a while.”

GLOW Out!, established in the spring of 2019 with the sole intention of creating the first Pride Festival in the four-county GLOW region, provides education and awareness of and around the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other) community, creating and maintaining a safe, inclusive, and equitable environment for LGBTQ individuals.

Sara Vacin is executive director, and one of her programs is a safe-space youth center at First Presbyterian Church in Batavia. It is there that local students and families have met and forged supportive networks, branching out to other initiatives, including a state-wide conference in Albany attended by several local students, including Makenzie.

Her efforts seem to be helping.

“I have a stronger connection with my family,” she said. “There are still times where I struggle a little bit, but I know who I can reach out to when those times are hard.”

The day was a filled with workshops, a panel and full representation from Genesee County Mental Health, Vacin said. There was a clinical supervisor, two nurses, a therapist and two care managers there throughout the day.

“What was really cool was that they were not just here in the beginning or the end, but were here all day providing information,” she said. “And it speaks volumes about Genesee County, and that they wanted to participate.” 

A total of 72 students attended, with the largest contingent from the Byron-Bergen school district, she said. 

Rainbow Resilience conference
Presenters and participants get creative at a coloring station during the Rainbow Resilience youth conference Friday at Genesee Community College in Batavia. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

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