Saddle up! It’s time for the 2023 National Keystone Conference in SUNNY Dallas, Texas!
When this post publishes, over 1,000 teens and Boys & Girls Club staff will be in Dallas already having a blast. In case you haven’t heard, Keystone is a club within the Club that gives teens ages 14-18 opportunities to make leadership decisions, serve others, and engage in experiences that help to shape their knowledge of academic, career community service, and teen outreach initiatives and projects. Keystone Club teens can also attend the BEST EVENT of the summer- the Keystone Conference! Each year, teens from across the country gather together to learn, get inspired, and have the most fun. But the best part? Almost everything at the Keystone Conference reflects youth voice, from the conference theme to the session topics.
At the start of the planning season, BGCA convenes a Steering Committee of teens and advisors from Keystone Clubs, and they have an epic session of brainstorming about what the conference should be about. For 2023, they decided on the theme Thrive! Be Heard and Be You.
But circling back to that brainstorming session- the Steering Committee also plans out what the topics for general and breakout sessions will be, based on what they think their fellow teens will find fun (Cupcake Wars are BACK!!!) but also the top issues affecting teens in America today. This gives us incredible insight into what a diverse group of teens thinks and feels. So in no particular order, teens in 2023 care about:
This was the top topic in 2022 as well, and goes to show that teens are still focused on how to thrive in all ways. Data on youth mental health finds that more young people ages 11 to 17 reported mental health issues in online screenings in 2021 than in 2019, with high rates and frequency of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, especially for young people of color or who identify as LGBTQ+. We’ll have multiple sessions that address mental and emotional health, coping skills, relationships, and self-care, and a session specifically for LGBTQ+ youth and allies. There will also be a Chill Zone open for the duration of the conference, where teens can go relax in a calm space with multi-sensory tools if they need a break.
Adulting and What Comes After High School
Keystone teens are future focused and already thinking about what comes after high school. Understanding how to prepare for their next steps education and career-wise is top of mind, such as filling out college applications, understanding financial aid (and wanting to avoid crushing student loan debt), or what non-college options exist, and how to find their passion to even know what route to take. At the conference we’ll have a College and Career Expo as well as several breakout sessions featuring professionals from a range of careers sharing about their paths. Our teens are also thinking about a lot of general life skills teens need to know as they move into adulthood, like budgeting, choosing where to live, banking, and more, topics not covered in school.
Social Justice, Diversity, and Advocacy
Teens today care about what is happening socially and politically. We heard over and over about the need for greater equity, equality, and advocating for human rights. They’ve felt the direct effects of issues like immigration and racial inequality, and they are dedicated to activism. But teens don’t just want to learn about social justice topics, they want to get INVOLVED. This year, we’ll have multiple sessions that touch these topics, including on how to be an advocate at the community, state, and federal levels, being culturally aware, and on race and racism specifically. And just two weeks ago, over 200 teens from across the country along with their advisors participated in the Summit for America’s Youth in Washington, D.C., which included visits to Congress. Boys & Girls Club teens use their voices proudly!
Leadership and Identifying Your Strengths and Talents
It’s no surprise that a group of teens who are part of a leadership club want to learn more about being leaders. This goes across a ton of areas, from how to communicate effectively, building your brand, and how to be a positive influence. Teens recognize the complexity of today’s world, and that they will need to develop a wide range of skills in order to be successful.
Expressing Yourself Through the Arts
A HUGE focus for our steering committee this year was bringing in as many opportunities for creativity as possible! Public school arts budgets tend to be first on the chopping block when it comes to school funding, and this trend was exacerbated by the COVID crisis. We know that exposure to the arts plays a critical role in development, and afterschool programs like Boys & Girls Clubs have stepped into the gap to provide these experiences for youth. At this year’s Keystone Conference we’ll be expressing ourselves through dance, graffiti, music, and developing content for social media.
Teens today have a lot to deal with. It’s why afterschool continues to be so vital. We cultivate welcoming, inclusive, emotionally safe spaces where youth can connect with their peers and be supported by adults who care about them, and can help them navigate the hard stuff and be ready for the future. These are really big issues, none with easy solves. Sessions on these topics and more will be featured throughout the 2023 National Keystone Conference. Not coming to Dallas? We’ll be streaming the opening general session live on BGCA Virtual Club at 7:45 PM ET/4:45 PM PT.