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FRENCHTOWN – Stereotypes affect entire communities – not just individuals, Frenchtown High School students learned during the Frenchtown Community Coalition Lead Week Youth Summit on Tuesday.

At the summit, a group facing the stereotype of being elderly had to first build a housing complex for people age 55 and older before they could work to add to their community.

A group in a ghetto had to build a police station first, then a house permit was revoked after drugs were found.

“Everything we do, they just smoke us,” said Haley Cyr, a Frenchtown High senior.

Meanwhile, a group in the middle faced no hurdles and built skyscrapers, schools and a hospital, among other things.

About 30 Frenchtown students took part in the summit at the Frenchtown fire station.

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Nearly all the students were frustrated by the limitations placed on them because of stereotypes during the Extreme Neighborhood Makeover exercise.

In the disabilities stereotype group, frustrations mounted as fees to make buildings accessible increased. Meanwhile, in the ghetto, Cyr and her neighbors struggled to get building permits at all.

The frustrations, though, were meant to help students find their voices and advocate for what they felt was right.

“No. 1: We all are different, but we don’t have to make those divisions,” Andy Duran told students after the makeover exercise.

“No. 2: We’ve got to be willing to challenge the process,” said Duran, who is facilitating many of the Frenchtown Community Coalition Lead Week activities through Linking Efforts Against Drugs in Chicago.

And, lastly, people should work together to repurpose resources, he said.

“The key is to find your voice,” he told students.

Students can use their voices to break down barriers and help ease real-world frustrations that can cause people to make poor decisions, Duran said.

“We’re asking you what you need and trying to help you get that,” he added.

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The youth summit is just one of several events this week that will help the Frenchtown Community Coalition identify and address community needs to help youths make healthy choices.

The 20-member coalition formed in 2008 in response to several alcohol-related deaths of Frenchtown youths. In the fall of 2013, the organization received a $600,000 Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to sustain its work to increase community collaboration and decrease youth use of alcohol and marijuana.

“It’s ultimately about saving lives,” said John Bigart III, the coalition’s coordinator.

Student and community member input into prevention is critical for success, Bigart said.

“It’s not effective otherwise,” he said.

“It makes you feel like you actually have a piece in the community,” Frenchtown senior Wyatt Indreland said about the summit.

Students who participated Tuesday will present their findings and solutions Wednesday during a community forum from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Frenchtown High School auditorium. Prevention also will be discussed during the town-hall-style meeting.

To learn more about the Frenchtown Community Coalition, go to frenchtowncommunity.com or find the organization on Facebook.

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