Thirteenth annual youth symposium addresses teen bullying and gang involvement
March 8, 2011
Six months after graduating with honors from UC Davis in 1995, Santa Cruz-raised Jon Ervin Nadherny took his own life. Some time into coping with the tragedy, his mother, Linda Calciano, realized she wanted to turn her grief into a way to help prevent other youths from meeting a similar fate. In tandem with Dominican Hospital, she founded the Jon E. Nadherny/Calciano Memorial Youth Symposium in 1997.
“I knew that I wanted to do something in the memory of my son and felt we could reach as many people as possible in the community with something educational—a symposium where we would bring experts in and professionals in,” says Calciano.
“We targeted youth mainly because Jon was 23 years old when we lost him,” Calciano says. “I really wanted to make this loss, which was so tragic for our entire family, into some sort of positive energy. I wanted all of us together—[our] eight children, my husband and I—to have a focus to somehow give meaning to what had happened. I also did it so that the children could see me continue on despite how hard it is. And, believe me, there were times when it seemed like it was going to be impossible to go on.”
On Friday, March 11, the Memorial Youth Symposium will observe its 13th annual conference with an event entitled, “Victim and Perpetrator: Clinical Portraits of Bullies, the Bullied & Gang Affiliated Youth.” The Youth Symposium chooses each year’s theme based on topical timeliness, feedback from former symposium attendees, and a panel of 15 local professionals who meet monthly to plan the yearly conference.
The event’s six-hour program is divided into morning and afternoon sessions. This year’s morning session will concentrate on bullying and will feature keynote speakers from across the country, including Ronald G. Slaby, Ph.D., who works at the Massachusetts Children’s Hospital as well as at Harvard Medical School. Slaby is also an advisor for The Bullying Prevention Educational Campaign, launched on CNN last October.
The afternoon will be devoted to discussing gang affiliation amongst youth. Cheryl L. Maxson, Ph.D., an associate professor at the department of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine, will give a keynote presentation on youth gang involvement.
Other local presenters include Officer Arnold Vasquez of the Santa Cruz Police Department, Sgt. Roy Morales of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, Master Officer Henry Robles of the Watsonville Police Department, and Mike Walker, formerly of the Department of Justice and co-founder of the Central Coast Gang Investigators Association.
“Our philosophy is not only to educate all of what we call the ‘first line [of] defense’ workers—people who are working to help identify youth that are at risk—but to educate the youth themselves. And that’s why we started the scholarship program about eight years ago,” says Calciano. The Memorial Youth Symposium is volunteer-run and funded solely by donation. The cost to run the symposium varies, but is roughly between $20,000 and $30,000. “Some of the speakers give a good discount to speak at the symposium after they hear the family story and the background,” says Calciano. “So we are very blessed with that.” The $55-$65 attendee registration fee includes lunch and parking. Calciano says she expects around 450 attendees.
Members of Calciano’s family, especially including her son Josh Nadherny-Calciano, who is a co-chair of the Memorial Youth Symposium board, are an integral part of the foundation. Calciano’s children who live out of the area travel into town for the annual event, and the family meets with speakers the night before the symposium.
“It is always incredibly meaningful for us as a family to be here together for this,” says Calciano. “Our ultimate goal is that it will be self-sustaining, so that we will always have the symposium here in Santa Cruz. I, eventually, will transition more into the background with this. The children are really committed to keeping it going.