On Saturday, Nov. 23, the Wilton Youth Council C.O.D.E.S. (Community Outreach Dedication Education Success) program held its annual Leadership Conference at Trackside Teen Center.

Co-sponsors of the event, Westport’s TAG club, helped to make the day a success. The event was made possible by a grant from the Rotary Club of Wilton.

Nearly 40 students gathered for a day aimed at promoting youth leadership development as a positive force to combat negative influences on the lives of young people. The conference featured QPR (Question Persuade Refer) suicide-prevention training, offered by Jacquie Gaito and Mary Frank (certified QPR trainers).

The curriculum was developed by the QPR Institute whose mission is to save lives and reduce suicidal behaviors by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. The day also included inspirational speaker Jordan Burnham, featured in Joey Pantoliano’s movie “No Kidding, Me Too”.

Mr. Burnham is a public speaker who focuses on the mental health issues and disorders that affect so many people. He tells his story of struggling with depression and having to go through high school hiding his inner turmoil. But as the pressures mounted, he attempted to take his own life during his senior year of high school. Mr. Burnham’s miraculous survival prompted him to begin to deal with his depression and learn healthier coping strategies. Mr. Burnham now devotes his time to erasing the stigma associated with mental health and urging young people to seek help.

The entire day was not all serious business however, and the students enjoyed participating in youth-led leadership development games and activities.

The C.O.D.E.S. Leadership Conference, led by adviser Rachael Sandler, is part of the Youth to Youth International movement. Youth to Youth was founded in 1982 in Columbus, Ohio, as a community-based drug prevention and youth leadership program focusing primarily on middle school and high school students.

The goal of its many projects is harnessing the powerful influence of peer pressure — making it a positive force that encourages young people to live free of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

C.O.D.E.S. meets weekly at Trackside Teen Center from 6.30 - 7.30 p.m. Please email Rachael Sandler at mags559@gmail.com for further information or to join the group.