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Keynote speaker, Michael Reyes talks to students at the 2nd annual UCS youth summit about his difficult past, and how he overcame his struggles to graduate from college and beat the odds.

BENNINGTON>> It may be April vacation week, but the halls of Mount Anthony Union High School were still busy on Friday.

Upwards of 50 youth turned out for the second annual Youth Summit, sponsored by United Counseling Service.

Carrying the theme "Healthy State of Mind," the day-long series of workshops and activities aimed to teach attendees about mental, physical, and community wellness.

For area native and keynote speaker Michael Reyes, achieving his own mental wellness meant setting goals, connecting with people around him and

"Statistically, I was set up to not make it," Reyes said, addressing attendees.

He spoke about troubles in his youth -- moving from one home to the next, not having any direction, getting in trouble with the law at 16 and spending time in jail.

At some point, he realized he needed a change. He served in the Vermont Conservation Corps and met new people. He was inspired to apply to college and eventually graduated from the Community College of Vermont. Today, he has a steady job, is an active member of the community, he said.

"I'm so excited about life today," he said. I wake up grateful for being alive."

"No matter how bad it is, if you can appreciate who you are and where you are, you'll have the strength to move forward."


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After the keynote, Sandy Stevens, a certified personal trainer who owns Time for Yourself training on Benmont Avenue, got attendees' blood pumping with a 20-minute tabata workout. From there, youth were allowed to choose two of 12 different workshops and seven Mini "Mental Health Moments," the latter being a 20-minute activity promoting good mental health.

Workshops carried different themes. In one, they created personalized Zen gardens, which were used by Buddhists as a meditation tool. Another simulated impairments of recreational marijuana use -- a simulation showed how its use can create altered visual perception, slowed reaction time and poor decision making skills.

Topics included serious issues facing youth including cyberbullying, self-harm and suicide prevention. Other workshops .

A day-long workshop for the Youth Community Action Team allowed attendees to plan the next year of events for the group, a UCS initiative that aims to give teens guidance on ways to make change in the community.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979