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Conference promotes 'culture of character' among teens

Thirty-five school districts gathered at Michael's Banquet Hall in Hamburg last Wednesday for the Character Council of Hamburg's Champions for Change Conference. This event was one of many that took place during this 10-year-old, nonprofit organization's second annual "Creating a Culture of Character" week.

The Champions for Change Conference was created to bring together as many high schools in the Western New York region that were willing to participate. Students were able to converse about ideas and what they have already accomplished to promote good character in their schools.

"By meeting other students who have a like purpose, they can get excited and feel confident about their ideas and grow," said Vanessa Rehac, a parent who is involved in the organization. "It allows students to really take charge of having an atmosphere of good character in their school."

The main event of the day was internationally acclaimed motivational speaker Nick Vujicic. Born without arms or legs, he has refused to let his disabilities stop him from following his dreams, or ultimately living his life. He spends his days traveling the world to speak about the importance of self-worth and determination.

"You don't know what you can accomplish until you try," said Vujicic. "Grow, learn, try, fail, and keep on trying. Find the why. Find your purpose of destiny and hold on."

Many of the students who attended shared what they have been doing to promote this message in their schools.

Hamburg High School's Character Club was created eight years ago and is now 160 members strong. Immaculata Academy holds a Compliment Day. West Seneca East High School chooses a "virtue of the month" that is incorporated into lesson plans and is talked about throughout the school. Frontier High School has organized a number of events to encourage good character including blood drives, Bald for Bucks and the Polar Plunge.

This youth leadership movement has sparked a chain reaction, inspiring others to encourage the idea of consistently practicing good character throughout everyday activities. The Character Council of Hamburg continues to grow while spreading its mission.

"We do this because we know there is a need to encourage and inspire others," said Suzanne McKenny, president of the Character Council of Hamburg. "We're growing and expanding, and I'm happy to be a part of something so spectacular."

Emily Carson is a senior at Frontier High School.

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