90 percent report greater community connection and feeling welcome and respected

More than 150 newly arrived teens, primarily from Central America, gathered at the Montgomery College – Germantown Campus for the second Newcomer Youth Leadership Summit on March 14. Identity staff and youth played a key role in planning and facilitating the event, which brought together teenagers from seven of the county’s public high schools — including students from four Identity-run Wellness Centers and the county’s Career Readiness Education Academy (CREA) program. The purpose of the Summit was to welcome these teens to Montgomery County, provide an opportunity for them to bond with others with shared experiences and to introduce them to people and organizations who are here to help them realize their dreams.

Newcomer youth are children under 18 who recently came to the United States from other countries. Last year, more than 1,400 newcomer youth arrived in Montgomery County, which has approved $5.4 million to help connect them to their new community and to resources available to help them acclimate and thrive.

Attendance more than doubled from the first Youth Leadership Summit in November 2021, and many of the newly arrived youth who attended the first Summit helped plan and run break-out sessions during this event. Following a warm and rousing welcome from Montgomery College Provost Margaret Latimer and County Council President Gabe Albornoz, students participated in small group discussions about the challenges of adapting to their new lives. They opened up about missing family and their birth countries, adjusting to a new country with a different culture, and the difficulty of learning English. They validated each other’s experiences and feelings.

For many students, this Summit was their first opportunity to hear from adults and peers who have been here longer than them and to talk about their stressful and traumatic immigration experiences, since more than half of all participants had been in the United States for less than one year. At the end of the Summit, over 90% of the students said that they felt a greater connection to others like them, and that they felt welcomed and respected in their new community. More than two-thirds expressed interest in organizing a future event for other recently arrived teens.

“The Summit really opened a door for these youth,” said Veronica Funes, a Youth Development Specialist with Identity who helped to facilitate the event. “They saw that the opportunities for them are real and that they are capable of so much more than they had thought.”

Identity continues its partnership with the County’s Department of Health and Human Services Positive Youth Development Program to ensure that all newly arrived youth have access to the support and resources needed to flourish here. Like extended family, we remain fiercely proud to welcome and support everyone who calls Montgomery County home.