By Makayla-Courtney McGeeney, email@example.com
BENNINGTON — Students at Mount Anthony Union High School still entered the building early Thursday morning, even though school wasn't in session
Roughly 50 youth attended mini-mental health breaks and "Healthy State of Mind" workshops at the third annual Youth Summit sponsored by Teens4Change and United Counseling Service.
The wellness theme carried throughout the day-long series which commenced after alum and keynote speaker Aaron Styles shared his experiences about overcoming bullying in high school and how he founded the first LGBTQ group at MAUHS.
Styles graduated in 2007 and held a question and answer mini-mental health session for about seven students. He first asked how many had been bullied and how many had been the bully.
"When someone is picking on someone else, a lot of times it's not necessarily because of you, a lot of times it has to do with what's going on with their own energy, in their own body," he said. "People are bullying others to try to make themselves feel better. Anytime you are getting bullied, just remember that that's their energy."
Students said they were bullied for their size, sexual identity and physical appearance.
"If we're different, if you're short, or if you have a different personality, there's a lot of different ways [to get bullied]," 19-year-old Adelbert Capen said. "People can think of you as a target."
"I feel like once you get to college, everyone matures a little bit and everyone treats each other a little bit differently," Styles said. "After graduation everyone's energy balances out a little bit. As we get older we learn how to deal with it a little differently."
Styles used to live in Bennington but has since moved to the Capital District in New York. His experience with public speaking specifically involves HIV reachout. He said a few participants reached out to him after his speech to ask about how he maneuvered through life emotionally.
Participants warmed up for the day's activities with a zumba workout instructed by Andrea Malinowski, owner of Optionz Health and Fitness. In the cafeteria, local organizations were stationed at tables including the Bennington Oral Health Coalition, Bennington Rescue Squad, the Center for Restorative Justice and more.
A few workshops have returned from previous years: zen garden/mindfulness jars, suicide prevention and meaningful menagerie.
Participants took a few minutes to meditate before decorating a puzzle piece cut out of thick poster board during a meaningful menagerie workshop. Each piece was cut differently to be put back together at the end of the day to form a larger illustration.
"No matter what happened before they walked in the door, it's just about getting them to be in the present moment," workshop facilitator Lindsey Woodie said. "Before you hand them [the paint materials] hopefully that's where they're at."
Woodie said 21 pieces were cut out of a large square in three panels.
"It's nice to have an individual piece but we wanted to do a bigger work of art," she said.
Sophomore Jazmin Baskin decided to paint a sun on the corner of her obscure puzzle piece without planning what else would go into the illustration. Woodie said at least three other materials must be included on the puzzle piece — feathers, magazine cutouts, pipe cleaners, etc.
"I'm not good at painting but it relaxes me," Baskin said.
She said she liked the transition into the task part of the workshop by meditating first.
Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.