Youth Empowerment Summit

Nathan Harmon and Student Panel Share Personal Stories on the Power of Belonging

A crowd of 300 sat captivated as Nathan Harmon made his way from one side of The Commons’ stage to the other during his emotional and inspirational story of self empowerment.

Nathan Harmon is an international speaker and the founder of Your Life Speaks. His message comes from a combination of a troubled past and a great desire to help others overcome many of his same struggles. In his younger years he battled divorced parents, suicidal thoughts, self harm, alcohol and drug addictions, bulimia and eventually jail. 

Prior to this evening, Nathan spent the entire week meeting with all 7th - 9th grade students at all school assemblies in Bartholomew County, where he sparked the conversation about ‘Power of Belonging’. Gymnasiums full of students were silent as he told his story, and students swarmed around him afterward to share their own experiences. 

We wanted his fans, the students, to have the opportunity to see him again and even bring their families to come and listen to someone who speaks and inspires youth nation wide.

Take off Your Mask

Nathan tailored his message to fit a diverse audience. Young people, parents, and youth professionals listened as he shared his story of overcoming and spoke to how others can learn from his journey.

He repeatedly called on adults in the room to “take off your mask” so that the young people could see true vulnerability and then hopefully, choose to reciprocate. 

Nathan shared how a lack of vulnerability throughout his childhood played a major role in his path to a downward spiral, and that things began to change for him when he learned to take off his own mask.

When Nathan was young, he didn’t feel like he belonged because people in his life weren’t showing him their authentic selves. This night, he encouraged everyone in the room to take off their masks so our young people can find that sense of belonging.

Youth in Action

Following Nathan’s presentation, our youth panel shared their perspective on what belonging looks like in Bartholomew County.

Our panelists were:

Maika Shibata: Maika is a senior at Columbus North High School. She was a part of the Exhibit Columbus high school design team and won Judge’s Distinction in the Architectural Design Competition. She is also the founder of the I Am movement.

Jaden McKay: Jaden is a junior at Columbus Signature Academy: New Tech Campus. Jaden is a member and the Creative Project Manager for Columbus East Show Choir. Jaden is also a school tour guide, Student Voice Representative, and the on-air news host. Outside of school activities, she is a children worship leader at her church and an employee at Orange Leaf.

Jaden Rivera: Jaden is a senior at Hauser Jr-Sr High School. He recently swore into the Army National Guard in infantry airborne. Jaden's mother passed away a couple of years ago and his dream is to make her proud. Jaden is continuing to do that by making a better and more positive environment for his school. He tries to make suicide prevention more known and put an end to suicide.

Pranav Venkataraman: Pranav is a senior at Columbus North High School. Within school, he is a part of the 25th St. Singers, the Mixed Show Choir group, the Cross Country team, Student Assembly, the drama department, and Thespian troupe. He is the dance captain for show choir and a secretary for the Thespian troupe. He has also been part of a Destination Imagination team.

The teens explained what belonging means to them, when they’ve felt a sense of belonging and when they haven’t, as well as what community members can do to encourage a sense of belonging.

"I loved being a panelist. I’ve always wanted to spread positivity and I had such an amazing opportunity to do so. It’s nice to know that my story could have influenced anyone in the crowd, even it was just one person.” - Jaden McKay

The theme and message of the entire summit was truly represented this evening as both young people and adults spoke from the stage to an audience of all ages. We were able to see the first spark of what can happen when community members from all walks of life, and all ages, come together.

Thank you to everyone who made the evening possible and to everyone who attended this important community conversation.

Raising Awareness and Starting Community Conversations around Anxiety

One of the community conversations we wanted to have during the Youth Empowerment Summit was on the rising rate of anxiety among today’s teens. In fact, local data from our own Bartholomew County students reflect a similar concern.

Over 5,000 BCSC students completed the Indiana Youth Survey and CYD compared 2017 to 2019 responses to the question, “During the last 12 months, did you feel sad or hopeless for 2 or more weeks in a row?”

Consistently across all grades, more students answered yes this year compared to two years ago with 8th graders in middle school and 11th graders in high school having the highest percentage of students struggling in both 2017 and 2019.

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 To address these concerns head on, we hosted a showing of the award-winning documentary Angst and a guest panel discussion focused on teen anxiety and depression.

Approximately 130 teens, parents and community members joined us in the Columbus North Auditorium for the viewing and discussion Tuesday night.

Dr. Jim Roberts highlighted the school's efforts to empower students to make the best choices possible in his opening remarks. He mentioned their key focus on the Developmental Assets framework, which is being shared with adults and the students through a series of various workshops and training sessions to celebrate the assets they thrive and help fill the gaps they may be lacking. He ended his speech with: 

“It is our goal, through evenings like this one, where we have the chance to learn and get better together and continue to move forward.”


Angst is a 56-minute film and virtual reality experience that explores anxiety, its causes, effects and what we can do about it. The filmmakers’ goal is to have a global conversation and raise awareness around anxiety. 

The film features candid interviews with kids and young adults who suffer, or have suffered, from anxiety and what they’ve learned about it. It also includes discussions with mental health experts about the causes of anxiety and its sociological effects, as well as help, resources and tools.

Topics Addressed in the Documentary

  • What is anxiety?

  • Different types of anxiety disorders

  • Tips for coping with anxious feelings and/or anxiety disorders

  • How are anxiety disorders treated?

  • How long does treatment last?

  • How to help a friend who has an anxiety disorder

  • What tools can we use to manage everyday anxiety?

Expert Panel Discussion


After the documentary, we had four expert panelists on stage moderated by Judge Heather Mollo.

Dr. Matthew C. Aalsma, Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, shared his knowledge on the science behind anxiety and what happens in our brains when we feel anxious.

Dr. Jennifer Wright-Berryman, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Cincinnati shared findings in her research on teen anxiety and emphasized the benefits of treating anxiety problems at an earlier age. 

Kelli Hoeflinger, Director of  School Counseling at Hauser Junior-Senior High School answered questions that address schools efforts to address anxiety in our kids. 

Andy Taube, Counselor at Columbus East High School also answered questions that address schools efforts to address anxiety in our kids and benefits of yoga and meditation for anxiety. 

We also had impressive participation from the young people in the audience with questions to panelists ranging from “What do I do when my parents don’t believe in anxiety?” to “What should I do when I see a friend who has anxiety problems without offending them?”

Panelists suggested that teens can help friends struggling with anxiety by telling them it’s okay to be anxious, relating to friends feelings, sharing personal feelings, and opening up conversations.

Experts recommended that parents should try to listen to the child’s emotions, and not jump to conclusions and ignore the situation by just assuming it is a ‘teen’ phase.

We ended the night with a hopeful message:

"You're not alone. You have a tribe who'll listen and care for you." 

Recommended Tools and Resources

Council for Youth Development prepared 12 Definitions and Tips on Anxiety resource with contacts for local health resources and initiatives for our audiences. The information was provided by Regine Galanti, Ph.D. Director, Long Island Behavioral Psychology.


Local health resources and initiatives:

Additional resources recommended by Angst:

  • Helpful websites: Help pages, Community / Forums, Panic Disorders, OCD, Social Anxiety, PTSD, Specific Phobias, Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • Apps: Tools For Peace, Headspace, What’s Up? SAM App, Whil, Max Impact TBI app, Insight Timer

  • Videos: Exposure therapy scene from the documentary Angst, Angst Crosswinds – Zachary Nimmo, What it’s like to live with Anxiety, Things people with Anxiety want their friends to know, etc.

  • Articles: How to Prevent Anxiety in Children, What’s the Difference Between Feeling Anxious and Having Anxiety?, How To Help Children Under 10 Cope With Anxiety, Help your Child reduce test Stress, etc.

  • Books: Wally and the Whatifs: A children’s book about a little boy who faces intense anxiety And how he manages to work through it, Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise courageous & Independent Children, The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It, etc.

Thank You

Special thanks to Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Healthy Communities Mental Health Action Team, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation for co-hosting this event and their guidance on facilitating these conversations . We would also like to thank Columbus North High School for allowing us to use their auditorium.

The Power of Belonging Ripples through Schools in Bartholomew County

Reunited again!

Nathan Harmon returned to Columbus for a second time and spoke at 8 different schools as part of the school speakers series for the Youth Empowerment Summit

Nathan Harmon is an international speaker and the founder of Your Life Speaks. Nathan's message comes from a combination of a troubled past and a great desire to help others overcome many of his same struggles. In his younger years, Nathan battled divorced parents, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, alcohol and drug addictions, bulimia and eventually jail. 

At the schools last year, you could feel the energy in the room as Nathan connected with countless students - which is exactly why we wanted to bring him back for year two.


He spoke to all 7th-9th graders at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corporation, St. Bartholomew Catholic School, and St. Peter’s Lutheran School.

“I Belong, You belong, we belong”

Nathan connected his personal story and message with our summit’s 2019 theme, the Power of Belonging.

He addressed the importance of Developmental Assets building for all young people in order to create a supportive environment where all feel a sense of belonging. His powerful message also connected to youth empowerment by reminding students to take control of their path to success. Nathan emphasized his Five Habits of the Heart and Mind which he attributes to his own success. Nathan’s Five Habits are:

  • Transparency

  • Accountability

  • Working hard

  • Making good choices

  • Valuing People

Nathan truly lives out these five habits day-to-day. He also puts such a special emphasis on connecting with young people which is why he was such an essential part of this year’s summit.

Check out Nathan’s interview with a high school member of our CYD Youth Media Team:

Interview with Nathan Harmon at school assemblies. Interview & video production by CYD Youth Media Team / CNHS Media Team

In the spare moments Nathan had at Central Middle school, he took the time to sit down with their student media team to be interviewed and even played a round of Rock’em Sock’em Robots. CSA, Columbus North, and Columbus East also all had student media groups conduct interviews with Nathan.


A School-wide effort

Many of the schools that Nathan spoke at took the opportunity to really make it more than an hour-long presentation. Effort was put in before and after to ensure that the Power of Belonging would stay with students even after Nathan left.

Leading up to the event at Hauser, Student leadership organized and planned the assembly. Student leader, Elijah, had this to say about the experience: 

“Nathan Harmon helped us as a leadership team further connect to students, allow more students to see belonging as an option, and teach others how to surround themselves with the right people. These lessons are unforgettable. These lessons will further our ability to serve our school and community in promoting and empowering youth and belonging.” - Elijah Heslop

Hauser’s student leadership team with Nathan

Hauser’s student leadership team with Nathan

At Northside Middle School and Central Middle School, teachers planned a debriefing for students on Developmental Assets category Positive Identity and the Power of Belonging with students.

The debriefing came from resources in their Developmental Assets library. Teachers were able to choose which activity they wanted to facilitate based on their comfort level.


“The assembly covered some pretty heavy topics so allowing teachers and students multiple means of expression increases engagement and allowed all students and opportunity to debrief on a level they could handle.” - Erin Wagner, Guidance Counselor

Power of Belonging naturally ripples out in meaningful ways

When Columbus North High School saw the incorporation of “I Belong”  throughout the community, they decided to get involved and make it their homecoming theme

Students were encouraged to wear blue to emphasize the inclusion of every student in the building.

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Katie Schmidt, an English New Language (ENL) teacher at North loved the emphasis of “I Belong” at the school and wanted to make sure to get her students involved.

“ENL Students learned the word ‘belong’ and we discussed that we wear blue because we belong here at North. Then, we made plans to wear colors another day that showed where else we belong and why. Students wore their special colors, made posters, took pictures outside, and enjoyed some team-building activities.” - Katie Schmidt, ENL teacher

Even two weeks after the summit and Nathan being at the schools, the Power of Belonging is still rippling out. It’s never too late to start the conversation about the power of belonging. In fact, we think the conversation is just starting in our community. Be sure to share your innovative ideas, projects, and initiatives you are doing with young people at home or in the community. #cydyouthsummit

Stay tuned for more highlights of the summit!

Youth Empowerment Summit Kicks Off with Performance, Play, and Civic Engagement

We launched our second annual Youth Empowerment Summit with a Kick-Off Celebration outside of City Hall on September 14th. 

The Youth Empowerment Summit is an annual week-long series of events created to spark community conversations about building a supportive community for positive youth development. 

The theme of this year’s summit was the Power of Belonging. According to Krys Burnette, editor of 21st Century Organizational Development, “Belonging is the outcome of holding space where everyone truly feels empowered to speak up, make a change, and shift the culture.”

In order for young people to truly feel that they belong, we believe that they need to feel empowered to be civically engaged with their community so they can be the ones to speak up and make a change.

A Joint Effort

Belonging echoed through Saturday’s activities and included a powerful performance by Dance Kaleidoscope hosted by Columbus Area Arts Council; and a special visitation by Soft Civic designer, Bryony Roberts.

We launched the Summit by celebrating at Soft Civic, an installation of Exhibit Columbus. We thought it was the perfect location to demonstrate to young people the connection between a sense of belonging and being civically engaged with their community.

Soft Civic

Soft Civic was created by Bryony Roberts with with community organizations like youth leadership meetings, public discussions on democracy, and music performances in mind.

“This design is hopefully going to make the possibility of using this as a public space either for play, or for protest, or for performance more inviting and more accessible,” Bryony said.

With Bryony’s hope of activating the public spaces around City Hall’s main entrance, Soft Civic was a perfect place to celebrate the kick-off of the Summit.

Kids climbed on the structures while live music was played from the steps of City Hall. Some people sat on the scooped ropes and chatted with one another, while others discussed the structure with Bryony herself. 

Her design invites everyone to come together outside of City Hall and take part in civic engagement, including young people.


Celebrating the Start of an Active Week

After the performance and words from Bryony, youth and families could explore Soft Civic while listening to live music. They learned about the week’s events such as the ANGST Documentary and Panel, and the Nathan Harmon Keynote and Youth Panel.

Our community partner organizations, FFY Teens and Big Brothers Big Sisters, also joined us to celebrate the day and provided refreshments for program funding.

There were bubble wands, live music, hot dogs, chalk stations, resources, and the first spark of community conversations on the ‘Power of Belonging’.

Special thanks to Columbus Area Arts Council and Exhibit Columbus for co-hosting this event. We greatly appreciate Dance Kaleidoscope’s moving performance and Bryony Roberts for sharing her time with us.

Also, a big thank you to our volunteers and youth ambassadors who helped make the day possible!

Photography by Malanoski Fine Art Photography