Tags Articles tagged with "youth"


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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

Priscilla Behnke.

This July is the third season of “Stranger Things.”

The show is intriguing and not just for the Lovecraftian and Dungeons & Dragons-inspired, other-dimensional monsters terrorizing the residents of Hawkins. It also has resonating themes of friendship, sacrifice, fighting for a cause bigger than yourself and the true grit of parenting.

In season one, a group of young friends find themselves worried about their missing pal, Will, as does his single mother, Joyce. The show meticulously makes a point through flashbacks and small moments to show Joyce knows Will. She had taken the time to find and talk with him even when he would withdraw. She noticed when something was wrong, right down to the missing birthmark on a fake body. It was her persistence coupled with a strong support system that saves Will.

His friends are key players, but they don’t do it without adults. Chief Hopper rescues the young heroes and in the end it’s when the kids align with Hopper and Joyce that they are successful. If left to navigate the danger alone, they would have lost.

Our world doesn’t have Lovecraftian monsters, but there are real dangers lurking, ready to destroy our kids – addiction, loneliness, bullying, trafficking, lack of purpose. As parents we need to be vigilant, set boundaries and make decisions that are best for our kids, not decisions that are most convenient for us.

This theme is echoed in season two. Conflict arises when the kids separate from the adults and keep them in the dark about their new “pet.” Will tries to stand his ground against a creature alone. Joyce’s vigilance saves the day. The mother with few resources takes advantage of those she has. She won’t take no for answer, and when Will tries to shut her out, she looks at his video tapes, drawings, anything with clues.

Again, the kids find they need adults to fight the danger. Joyce again rescues Will as she tries to make the environment inhospitable for the monster. He cries to manipulate her so she will quit. She does what’s right for her son, not what is easy for them, and continues to make the hard choice, which saves her son. She’s aware of the realities of the danger her kids face, and she refuses to let them face them alone.

If our kids fall to what preys on them, we need to be ready for the long hard fight, and as a community we should be ready to stand with those parents. Above all we shouldn’t be leaving our kids to fight this world’s monsters alone.

Priscilla Benhke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Priscilla Behnke.


By Priscilla Behnke

At Be Awesome we know our youth are experiencing myriad false promises with our current culture.

The temporary highs associated with illicit drugs, the false sense of security through insincere relationships, the seeking of momentary comfort and happiness instead of perseverance and long-term purpose doesn’t end well. We have a plan to influence the culture through our programs like mentoring, education and other community services.

An anecdote of how culture can lead to disarray is Fyre Festival. Netflix and Hulu both released documentaries on the ordeal. In case you don’t know what the Fyre Festival is, here’s a quick recap. An overindulgent 20-something with too much access to investors and celebrities simultaneously closes himself off from those wiser and more experienced. He ends up overwhelmed. Then, when he can’t deliver on any of his promises, he attempts to con his way out.

Thousands of millennials lose even more thousands of dollars, get trapped on an island with subpar, unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Then no bands showed up to perform. The head organizer is now serving a six-year prison sentence, owes $26 million from a criminal conviction and is facing millions more in civil lawsuits.

To date, few have seen their money. This includes the staff, contractors and customers who couldn’t convince their banks the charges were fraudulent.

Each documentary attempts to dissect how the calamity occurred. Each appeared to agree that a slick and well-strategized social media campaign carried out with several celebrity influencers was key. One quote from the Hulu documentary is “what the Fyre Festival did prove was that the power of influence is real.”

People raised red flags on social media, a website was updated daily with the dysfunction on the island, and the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece. No one listened. The platforms for the warnings were no match to counter the influencers’ hype. Instead of acknowledging facts and reality customers eager for a fantasy followed the false promises.

In the end, thousands had a desperate experience while paying for the privilege. Each documentary tried to conclude who was to blame. Neither questioned the concertgoers and a culture that would lead so many to ignore the warnings and expend as many dollars as they did to hang out with those they deemed fabulous.

Andrew Klavan, author and political commentator, is right when he says polls don’t matter, culture does. If we don’t start aiming to impact our culture, we will see more disasters.

The good news is parents are still ranked the No. 1 influencer in their children’s lives. You have more power than a glitzy, well-produced media campaign. Utilize it.

Priscilla Benhke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the March issue of in Maricopa.

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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

Priscilla Behnke.

There’s been a growing trend among teens. E-cigarettes help long-time smokers by reducing the intake of harmful chemicals they inhale while burning traditional tobacco cigarettes, or helping others quit all together. Here are some things to consider when thinking about teen use of vape pens.

1.The “reduction in harm” discussion means just that, it’s less harmful, not harmless. Someone who has been smoking for years looking for a less harmful method is vastly different than a young member of the pink lung club beginning to use nicotine in this “safer” method.

  1. Not all liquid vapor is nicotine free, and they know it. When vaping first started becoming popular I had discussions with middle schoolers who tried vaping. They just wanted to try the fun flavor and were convinced it didn’t even have nicotine. In recent discussions, high schoolers admitted freely that they are vaping nicotine products, and in fact they seek it out. The higher the percentage the better.
  2. They are getting it from older friends and siblings. I called around and suggested that I wanted a starters kit but wanted to get around the pesky 18 and older law. The retailers informed me they were only going to sell to 18 and older. The teens I talked with informed me it wasn’t hard to find friends of age to get it for them; some even had siblings who would buy it for them.
  3. Why they use it might surprise you. One admitted not liking it saying it tasted like an expletive but wanted to appear cool. Another claimed most don’t like it but find it to be a huge stress reliever from what is going on at home or school. Home should be a refuge, but some of our teens are so stressed they are choosing to cope by vaping a poisonous substance in the school restroom, not developing skills that will help them become the confident, connected and successful people this world need.
  4. If you listen, they will talk; and if you talk, they will listen. Parents have more credibility with young people than any institution. If parents stand back and simply wish their kids aren’t involved in these drug trends than an influence vacuum is left to be filled by older friends and siblings in a school restroom with a toxic vapor.


Priscilla Benhke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Youth Trek pulls a loaded handcart through a sandy wash on its first day. Photo by Jim Headley


This week about 180 Maricopa 14- to 18-year-olds are re-creating the handcart trek of western pioneers across the country.

The re-creation, called a Youth Trek, is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The teens are hauling handcarts 17 miles over three days as a connection to history and their forefathers.

Katelyn Dayley, one of the participants in the trek, said at Christmas Camp, “Right now we just loaded all our gear onto the wagon. It took a little bit of work just to get the tarp over everything. We got our boxes of food for our lunch. We’re getting ready to go on the trail.”

Those participating in the trek are from the Maricopa Stake, which compromises seven units in Maricopa as well as two from Ajo and Gila Bend.

Youth Treks have been done for many years in various locations along the original “Mormon Trail,” from Iowa to Salt Lake City, as well as other locations convenient to the participants.

The Maricopa Stake Youth Trek is particularly unique because it follows a portion of a trail taken through this area by the Mormon Battalion, a group of 500 LDS men recruited by the United States in 1846 to leave their refugee families in Iowa and walk to Mexico as a military resource during the Mexican War.

The group went on to California, on the way spending the Christmas of 1846 encamped west of modern-day Maricopa, in a campground now called Christmas Camp. Using portions of native trails, the route had been established by the excursion of Juan Bautista de Anza in 1775-76. John Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company later used the trail for its stagecoaches before the Civil War.

One of the handcarts is loaded for the trek, which is organized every four years. Photo by Jim Headley

“We get together every four years and have this handcart trek,” said N. Emery Layton, high councilor and 2018 Maricopa Stake Trek director. “We help these kids have the opportunity to get out in the desert and do some hard things. Most stakes will do this in our church in the summertime. We choose to do it in the wintertime because of the historical significance of this location.”

Layton said in 1846 his great-great-great-grandfather was one of the Mormon Battalion who camped at Christmas Camp.

He said the trek selected the Christmas timeline due to the historical significance of their ancestors that not only traveled west during the 1846-47 expedition but chose to do such on the historical Anza trail. The Mormon Battalion camped Christmas Eve in “Maricopa Village,” a location just west of Maricopa, off the 238 about halfway to Gila Bend (about three miles west of 99th Avenue and two miles north of State Route 238).

“It was a place they were coming through and they stopped here for a couple days. They cut buttons off their clothes to trade with the Indians, so they could get food, beans and things. As they travelled all the way across the West, [his ancestor] was one of them who dug wells and did things for future pioneers,” Layton said.

The trek takes place on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land known as the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The BLM issued the group a special use permit to have the event.

“It is a good time,” Layton said. “Let them get out here and walk the trail. Let them hit their knees on a rock and things like that. Experience the fact that life has bumps just like this trail does. They can look back and say, ‘Hey you know, I can do hard things.’ It’s not going to be easy.”

The historic trail is on Bureau of Land Management property. Photo by Jim Headley

The goal of the event is spiritual growth.

“We’ve asked them to think about what their role is and why are they here. It is something that will help them build their love for Jesus Christ and the ability that they have to share with other people and to be an outstanding citizen within our country,” Layton said.

While the event is clearly a huge learning experience for the young men and women participating in it, “it is for us, too. We’ve all had a part in this. I’ve never directed it. This is my first time,” Layton said.

During the program, participants learn about camping, wilderness survival, first aid and how to pack the carts.

“It is a self-reflection type journey. They push themselves and learn they can do something hard that you are being asked to do,” Layton said.

Cody Wilson, a parent of some of the participants in the Youth Trek, said, “It is a time that we have to get together a group of kids and experience some of the activities that took place 100 years ago when the pioneers were coming through this area.”

Wilson added his wife’s great-grandfather and great-uncle were part of the Mormon Battalion that came through the area in 1846.

“For my kids, it is a good experience. I’m just helping a little,” Wilson said. “After it’s over, I hope it means a lot more. They’re just getting started. I think they are a little intimidated and probably a little tired. Once they get going, I think it will take on meaning for them.”

By the time they reached Christmas Camp the first day, Dayley and her group had traveled 3.5 of the 17 miles on the course.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “It will be fun with everyone working together. We have six people pulling. I’m looking forward to lunch – always – and dinner – and breakfast tomorrow.”

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

The school year has started, and many 12th-grade students and their families are experiencing the college admission application process.

If a student waits until the senior year of high school, he or she has waited too long. The process should begin in elementary school where the student can develop a productive work ethic. Completing all homework assignments, studying for tests and starting early on assigned projects and reports will develop behaviors that will maximize grades in high school.

Once the student arrives in ninth grade, a folder should be maintained listing all activities (both in-school and off-campus – athletics, music, academic competitions and student government are prime examples), including a description of the efforts made by the student. A similar folder should be created for each grade level in high school. Colleges are very interested in activities as well as grades. A student who has participated in time-consuming activities and who has good grades has learned to budget time and will most likely be successful in college.

Starting in 11th grade, the student should start examining possible colleges. Some questions that should be asked about each school are:

  1. Is the school’s location what I want? Some students may wish to be close to home while others may want to be far away.
  2. What size student population is desired? Will a student be happy with a campus of 1,000 students? How about 30,000 or 50,000?
  3. Is there an academic program that covers the student’s career interests?
  4. If the student should change his or her mind about the major, are there diverse majors available?
  5. How likely is the student to receive sufficient financial aid?

There is help available, starting with the high school counselor’s office. Ultimately, the student should visit the campus of each school that appears to be a good choice. Ideally, visit the campus on Friday and attend classes. Stay over to Saturday to see what type of activities exist for those residing on campus.

It is wise to invest time in seeking financial aid. There are all types of scholarships. Students who have a parent who served on a U.S. Navy submarine are eligible for a special scholarship, as are those whose parents or grandparents worked in the shoe industry. Many church-based colleges offer financial aid to students who are active members. An excellent scholarship program is the ROTC Scholarship, which pays academic costs and provides a monthly stipend to help with room and board.

Financial-aid research is an important part of early preparations for college.

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He lives in Maricopa.

This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

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By Chris Cahall

Chris Cahall

HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones” generates its network a billion dollars annually. One of the better scenes is in season two when Petyr Baelish faces off with Cerci Lannister. He hints at knowing a secret she didn’t want divulged and proclaims, “knowledge is power.” She bests him with her soldiers and shows him she can bring about his demise and tells him “power is power.”

SPOLIER ALERT: Baelish was right. We find out later that the whole war was orchestrated by him, he has been manipulating events to produce kingdom chaos with one goal: to take over. He only loses when another player gains knowledge of his scheme, defeating him and claiming his bannerman as her own because, knowledge is power.

Which brings me to my point. This subtle (yet game-changing) plot point is a universal truth that has taken a niche genre and developed it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise. And it isn’t lost on the players at the Be Awesome Youth Coalition. They have adopted this philosophy and will be focusing on it this fall by educating parents and community members on topics relevant to our youth. Kids and teens are facing a slew of issues, and if we don’t make it a priority to educate ourselves on the realities facing them, then we run the risk of falling into the trap of false security. Here are three ways in the month of September you can get involved with Be Awesome and increase the knowledge (aka power).

1). Swag Bags. Be Awesome is currently using fun swag for decorative bags to share with community members that also provide valuable information for parents and community members about adults. We could use help with collecting items, putting them together, and passing them out at events. Or grab one for your-self.

2). Social Media. Like and share the Facebook Page. Be Awesome will be publishing valuable information on their page alongside of other fun and motivating posts. Take the time to like the page, read the posts, and share them.

3). Talk-O Tuesdays. Be Awesome will be providing speakers and information on tough topics relevant to the health and wellness of kids and teens over a taco dinner with the partnership of Ultra Star. After a long drive home on the 347 you don’t have to decide between making dinner and participating in a workshop with valuable information. Your community has you covered.


This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Turner Stanek, 15, went after his own state records. Submitted photo

A Maricopa teenager raised the bar during his first power lifting competition last year and is building on his reputation this year.

Turner Stanek, 15, broke state records in the back squat (352 pounds), deadlift (435 pounds) and bench press (198 pounds) at the USA Powerlifting Apeman Strong Fest in Phoenix Sept. 23.

“This is all new to him and it’s pretty awesome,” said Stanek’s mother, Danica.

Last Sunday at the USA Powerlifting Arizona 2018 State Championship, the Mountain Pointe sophomore beat his own records in back squat and deadlift and maintained his previous holding in the bench press category.

He’s now qualified to participate in the 2018 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals this October in Spokane, Washington.

Turner’s passion for the sport began with encouragement and training from friends and staff at Maricopa CrossFit.

“It’s astonishing because two years ago today I wouldn’t have thought I would hold three records or that I could back squat 402 pounds,” Turner said.

The process produced a physical and mental metamorphosis.

Turner gained muscle and lost pounds with cross fit and powerlifting competitions.

“He has literally gone from kind of a chubby adolescent to looking like a 25-year-old man,” said Danica Stanek. “It’s crazy.”

The once introverted teen also increased his confidence and has since broadened his social horizons by joining clubs at school and encouraging others to accomplish their own fitness goals.

Work inside the gym taught Turner to deal with his emotions.

“I can put all that anger into the bar and take it out on the bar because that’s all the bar wants me to do,” Turner said.

He plans to compete in regional competitions this summer ahead of the national event in September.

Stanek said he wants to be a well-known powerlifter and help others with their fitness ambitions.

“It’s a great feeling what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it as much as you do for powerlifting,” Turner said.

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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

  1. It’s the most popular drug. With all the talk about the latest epidemic, opioid abuse, it is important to remember that alcohol is still the most commonly used substance by teens. This holds true for our local youth. For the last 12 years all data points to alcohol being the default substance used by Maricopa teens.
  2. The line, “Everybody’s doing it” is a lie. It’s counter intuitive when there is an endless supply of movies ready to be streamed straight to your phone depicting teens and raging alcohol thirsty partiers, but they aren’t. In fact, while it’s the most popular drug of choice, more kids chose not to drink. According to the latest Arizona Youth Survey data, only 17.5 percent of local teens report using alcohol in the 30 days. This same survey has shown, cycle after cycle, teens who use alcohol are in the minority.
  3. Local teens are on the friends-and-family plan. The 17.5 percent of adolescent drinkers accessed their alcohol from somewhere or someone. According to local surveys conducted by the Be Awesome Youth Coalition, our teens are on the friends and family plan. The top two ways youth accessed alcohol were:
  • Party with friends (without adults present)
  • At home from parents or guardians

We need to be vigilant about where are kids are going. We shouldn’t just worry about parties; whom our children are hanging out with is also important. Get to know the parents of our children’s friends. Ensure they are not hanging out at homes where adults are sharing alcohol with minors.

  1. All brains are not equal. There are several reasons we should take underage drinking seriously. Brain development is ongoing for what experts believe to be into the early to mid-20s. In the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a study completed in 2010 by neuroscientist Susan Tapert found that teens who abused alcohol do worse on thinking and memory tests than their non-drinking peers. I meet parents all the time who take pride in their child’s education. If their child is drinking, they are putting said education at risk.
  2. You have the greatest influence. You as a parent have a great impact over your child’s decisions. If you talk with your kids about alcohol, they will listen. Parents who do not engage in discussions about alcohol use risk leaving a vacuum on the issue open for anyone to fill. Your role as a parent is key in helping to reduce underage drinking. For more information follow us on Facebook at The Be Awesome Youth Coalition page or visit our website mcasa.org.

Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Coalition.

Facebook.com/BeAwesomeYouthCoalition, PBehnke@macaasa.org 

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.


Submitted photo

For the second year in a row, Maricopa High School junior Evan Grace has been appointed to serve on the Governor’s Youth Commission.

Fifty-one high school sophomores, juniors and seniors were appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family and will play a vital role inspiring Arizona’s youth to “take the lead” in their communities. The GYC has chosen to focus on substance abuse, bullying, teen dating violence, distracted driving, and civics education in their respective counties

Evan will serve on the Substance Abuse Committee and has been appointed the position of vice president. He is currently featured on the official GYC website for his recent honor of being the recipient of the Daily Point of Light Award from the President George H.W. Bush foundation.

“I am proud to appoint these young leaders and to give them the opportunity to serve as community ambassadors,” Ducey stated. “Each year, I am impressed by the commission members’ accomplishments for Arizona and look forward to what they will achieve this school year.”

For the third year in a row, the GYC helped the state of Arizona achieve its No. 1 ranking in the world in youth-led service projects. Last year the youth in Arizona logged over 70,234 service hours on the BeSeenBeHeard.az.gov website, and hosted 1,200 Arizona youth at Youth Leadership Day.

The GYC was established in 1989.