SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) leaders from Millburn High School joined nearly 400 youth role models and their adult advisors from around the U.S. at the 2012 SADD National Conference this past summer (June 24 – 27) in Torrance, California. As the nation’s leading peer-to-peer youth education, prevention, and activism organization, SADD’s 27th annual conference empowered young people to lead initiatives in their schools and communities that will encourage prevention education and create a positive effect on the lives of their peers. 

During the conference, MHS seniors Isabelle Amarger, Rachel Ben-Menachem, Kerry Donnelly, Rebecca Mandel and advisor Jennifer Manis learned and shared best practices to improve teen health and safety. DCH Auto Group’s Teen Safe Driving Foundation donated $2500 for 2 students and 1 advisor to attend the conference.  The club held fundraisers to support the cost of the other 2 attendees, and their fundraising was matched by DCH Millburn AUDI.  This is the third year that students from Millburn High School joined hundreds of youth leaders from SADD chapters across the country at the annual conference.

During the 2011-12 school year, Millburn High School SADD organized the first annual Battle of the Classes to bring out school spirit and encourage a fun Friday night activity.  They also organized a panel discussion on underage drinking, as well as many other safe driving awareness events throughout the year.  They ended the school year collecting food for the New Jersey Food Bank to help keep food in stock for underprivileged students who would not have access to free and reduced lunch programs when schools closed for the summer.  Christopher Hanzely is also an advisor of the club. 

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Since beginning in 1981, SADD has provided quality prevention education programming to its nearly 10,000 chapters nationwide. This year’s conference theme, “The Prevention League: Discover Your Power,” was selected by the SADD National Student Leadership Council (SLC), a group of prominent student leaders from across the country. Through more than 40 dynamic workshops, motivational speakers, skill-building activities and shared storytelling, attendees learned how to deal with critical issues facing teens today, including driving and traffic safety; building self-confidence; Internet safety; bullying and cyber bullying; underage drinking prevention; tobacco use prevention; healthy teen dating/relationships; teen pregnancy awareness; social host laws; the power of partnerships, and more. The curriculum aims to help teens recognize their own power to rise above negative influences, while networking opportunities allow them to learn from other student leaders about ways to best promote healthy and positive life choices among their peers. 

“Empowering young people and equipping them with the tools to inspire positive change are at the heart of the SADD National Conference,” said Penny Wells, SADD president & CEO. “It’s truly encouraging to see firsthand the dedication from chapter leaders and know that beyond the conference, thousands of young people will be changed for the better.”

In addition to sessions focusing on youth advocacy and SADD’s legislative priorities, other conference highlights included the following:

  • MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) staff presented the organization’s latest underage drinking prevention initiative.
  • The Riverside County SAFE Task Force helped youth understand how to stay safe on the Internet.
  • Stixs and Stones provided a creative and active workshop session about promoting healthy relationships and stimulated dialogue around issues of dating and domestic violence. 
  • Cars.com helped teens learn the best tools, tips, and tricks to digitally brand themselves as young professionals and use social media to inspire teens instead of create negative outcomes.
  • National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) empowered teens to help spread awareness to save the lives of their peers through its “Act Out Loud for the Safest Summer Ever” campaign because the summer months are the most deadly and dangerous time for youth on the roads.

In addition to the learning opportunities, attendees enjoyed a range of entertainment activities, including a trip to Disneyland. The induction of the 2012-13 SADD National Student Leadership Council and annual Awards Ceremony rounded out the Conference highlights.

Students were especially moved by guest speakers who shared stories of how their lives were personally affected by dangerous driving and hope to bring these kinds of speakers in for assemblies during the school year.

Rebecca Mandel said, “It was really a once in a lifetime experience to be able to meet other people from around the country because i was able to see how similar our lives were despite our geographical differences. All four of us learned so much more about our cause and we were able to share our insight with others.”

Isabelle Amarger agreed, saying, “It was great to meet like-minded peers and see how many teens across America are dedicated to supporting their peers in making safe choices. It makes us feel stronger in our purpose to spread the word about safe driving.”

Ms. Manis said, “I enjoyed meeting other advisors from across the country and sharing ideas about increasing safe driving awareness in the community and helping our club grow. I look forward to working with these teen leaders in the coming year and sharing what we learned in California.”