It has been almost two years since Shannon Walker attended the Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Project's (YADAPP) summer camp in 2004.
"The camp was about teaching youth to develop plans and implement them back into the community," she said.
While she was at the YADAPP camp, Walker did indeed develop a plan and Saturday, May 6, that plan became a reality as Loudoun County held its first Loudoun Youth Fest at Ida Lee Park in Leesburg.
More than 1,000 teenagers from across the county came out for the youth festival that included a talent show, an art show, laser tag, climbing walls and numerous raffle prizes.
Aside from all of the activities, youth-focused groups from across the county set up booths to give the attendees information on everything from drinking and driving to abstinence. Groups, such as MADD, Next Level 4 Teens Inc., Project Heart to Heart and the Boys and Girls Club, passed out souvenirs and information about the resources they offer teenagers in Loudoun County.
"We wanted this to be a place for everyone to get all the information in one place," Walker, a junior at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, said. "We are lucky in Loudoun County to have so many teen-help groups."
Walker, who was the youth chair for the festival, worked with the Loudoun Youth Initiative (LYI) and the county's Advisory Commission on Youth (ACOY) as well as teenagers from throughout the county to put the festival together.
"This was a huge group effort," Hannah Sweeny, a Loudoun Valley High School senior and chair of the Youth Advisory Council, said. "A project of this magnitude involves the entire county and all of its youth."
THE OTHER PEOPLE involved with putting the youth festival together were equally pleased with the end result and the number of teenagers who attended.
"This proves how viable it is to have an all-day event geared towards teens," Tim Chesnutt, director of LYI, said. "We are very pleased with how everything turned out."
As with any new project, those in charge were concerned about how the community would respond and if there would be enough support for the festival. By Saturday, however, those concerns were a thing of the past.
"In the first year you never know if you are going to get the students," Carol Kost, the chair of ACOY, said. "But they are coming. There has been a consistent line of people coming in which is great."
Besides the student support, leaders of the festival were pleasantly surprised at the support they received from community leaders and businesses.
The festival could have had 25 more booths than they did and leaders were forced to turn away several sponsors, something Kost said she hated to do.
"We had businesses calling us and wanting to sponsor the event," she said. "That really shows that we have turned a corner and become a part of the fabric of the community."
Kost sited the support from politicians and the community, including the Sheriff's department, which provided a great deal of security to ensure the safety of the attendees, as a whole, as one of the main reasons the festival turned out so wonderfully.
"We wouldn't have been able to do this without all of the support," she said.
AFTER SEEING THE success of Saturday's event, the organizers are already planning for next year, envisioning an even bigger and more involved event.
"We definitely plan to expand," Chesnutt said. "We would like to have the festival move from site to site each year."
Kost said she would like to expand the talent show to two stages in order to accommodate all performers. The talent show, filled with dance and music performances, drew a crowd throughout the afternoon and was one of the festival's most popular attractions.
"I think the talent show was just a great way to experience how much talent there is in the county and what a range of talent it is," Sweeny said.
While the plans for the coming years are still only in the heads of the organizers, they have high hopes for the future of the youth fest.
"Even if had only gotten 200 to 300 kids this year," Walker said, "we know that as the event grows it will gain status and more people will come."