The fourteenth annual Speak Hard Youth Conference was attended by youth from Versailles and Stover high schools. This conference sponsored by ACT Missouri was held in March at the Capitol Plaza in Jefferson City.  

ACT Missouri, a state agency, promotes safe, healthy drug-free communities. Morgan County CLEAR is a community coalition with a similar purpose. CLEAR sponsored the attendance of local youth through scholarships awarded by ACT Missouri.   

Keynote speaker was Josh Drean who shared the three principles that research shows defeats bullying. Those principles include resiliency, empathy, and self-worth. Prior to the keynote presentation local youth, Quinton Ryerson assisted in presenting "Taking Down Tobacco" training to learn tools and strategies to prevent or reduce youth tobacco related deaths. Other session topics included bullying prevention presented by ACT Missouri Youth Ambassadors.  Local youth who have served as youth ambassadors this year include Hope Heimsoth and Colbey Boicourt. 

This conference is an opportunity for youth to network with their peers from across Missouri regarding prevention issues. Prior to the start of the conference youth visited their legislators to advocate for prevention. At the Speak Hard Youth Conference, ACT Missouri and the Division of Behavioral Health honored some of our state’s most active and vocal prevention leaders.   Each of them received a plaque and a Senate or House Courtesy Resolution at the ceremony in the Capitol’s Rotunda.  

Winners from the Morgan County CLEAR Coalition were Anna Knoerle and Grace Unger. Knoerle began work with Morgan County CLEAR as an eighth grader and won their contest with her poster “Keep on Jokin, Don’t Start Smokin”; which was used throughout the county to reduce tobacco use.  She is actively involved with Tobacco Free Youth and attended their Youth Summit.  She delivered prevention messages to peers during National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week and Smoke-Free Indoor Air programs to middle school students, Head Start parents, and other community groups. Knoerle presented “Youth Led School/Community Health Change” at the Missouri School Consolidated Health Conference, is a SADD Officer, member of the Chamber Choir, Distributive Education Clubs of America, Student Council, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, BETA, an A+ tutor, and her school’s softball, basketball, and track teams.

Grace Unger is a member of Morgan County Tobacco Free Youth, Morgan County C.L.E.A.R, and the Taking Down Tobacco project. She serves as her school’s basketball manager, softball manager, and was honored with the Community Theater’s Student of the Month, and Tobacco Free Missouri’s Outstanding Youth Leadership Award with the group.  She is a passionate advocate that works hard to get the message out about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.  She is an outstanding speaker and is not afraid to share her fact-cited thoughts on the subject.  Her strong will and determination will certainly assist in making the community smoke-free.

The Morgan County Tobacco Free Youth Coalition also received the award for their extraneous efforts to pass smokefree indoor air policies.  Morgan County Tobacco Free Youth have been working for four years to educate about the risks of tobacco use and secondhand smoke and enact policy changes by:  collecting signatures of support, distributing information, creating PSAs and posters, presenting to city council and mayors, collecting tobacco trash to demonstrate the scope of the problem, and conducting surveys.  Several members developed and presented a session at the Annual Coordinated School Health Conference entitled, “Youth Lead School/Community Health Change.” Representative David Wood attended the ceremony and provided House Courtesy Resolutions to Stover and Versailles High Schools for their smoke-free advocacy.

Versailles youth include: Morgan Allen, KyLynn Ballew, Colbey Boicourt, Adaya Comer, Ellie Dunnaway, Becka Fields, Allison Foley, Emma Geier, Jonathon Geier, Gracie Hamrick, Hope Heimsoth, Brianna James, Brooklyn James, Anna Knoerle, Bobbi Jo Mills, Briana Nguyen, Halle Randall, Quinton Ryerson, Kylie Viebrock, Lindsay Walls, Bodhi Tolentino, Sydney Yeager and Donna Chapman, mentor

Stover youth include:  Joeley Clark, Keiley Clark, Zach Estes, Lena Hinck, Olivia Schnirch, Marie Schoolfield, Heather Siegel, Grace Unger, and Anna Koeller, mentor.