One day this past April, my history teacher pointed at me and said, “Lorissa, you can consider yourself busy this Friday!”. Those simple words forever changed my life. My name is Lorissa Rinehard. I am 16 years old and from Santa Barbara, California. Like many teens, I have always wanted to make the world a better place and participate in positive social change; however, I was not certain what I could do. The Friday event to which my history teacher alluded was a peace leadership training hosted by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in collaboration with Free the Children.

As I learned more about the event and my participation in it, I became more and more excited. The trainings were administered at Westmont College and brought together high school and college youth for a two-day intensive seminar on how we, as young people, could change the world.

At the sessions, we learned skills which will stay with us for life. We were taught, for example, how to give an effective speech, run a successful meeting, inspire others, work with the media, fundraise and participate in the work of the Foundation. Right from the start of the training session, we were presented with a vast amount of great information and a feeling of empowerment. Not only was the material inspiring, but so was the presentation. It was clear that the organizers were committed to youth and believed that we could make a difference.

The presenters genuinely listened to what we had to say and valued our opinions. Furthermore, Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children, who had traveled to Southeast Asia to meet children involved in child labor at the age of 12, provided us with a real life example of how youth make a change in the world for the better. It was impossible for all the youth not to be motivated! The main speaker at the event was Craig’s 23 year old brother, Marc Kielburger. Marc is committed to educating youth on issues of leadership and making sure they are aware of just how powerful they really can be. As the day progressed he drove home exactly what we needed to do to effect change regarding the causes we felt strongly about.

We were then informed about the situation of nuclear weapons and what we, as youth, could do to help. Chris Pizzinat and Carah Ong from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation spoke about the estimated 30,000 nuclear weapons which remain in this world, long after the end of the Cold War. The day ended with an impassioned speech by David Krieger, the President of the Foundation, who left us inspired and wanting to take the next steps to the attainment of a nuclear free world. The highlight of the day was a youth peace rally in which we took an hour break from the training and joined 500 other individuals in the large gymnasium at Westmount.

The guest speaker was none other than Queen Noor of Jordan, who was in Santa Barbara to accept an award from the Foundation. I was selected as one of the speakers to report on the activities of our youth leadership training and to let other young people know how they too can become involved in our activities. I had my speech memorized, but I was still nervous. Fortunately, I had little time to dwell on my stage fright. With new people to meet and conversations to be had, I half forgot my jitters. With an entourage of body guards and public relation managers, Queen Noor, herself, arrived. Upon being introduced to her, I could tell that she was a compassionate person. We spoke about the training sessions and the youth of today. It was apparent that she was genuinely interested in what I had to say. I sat on stage practicing the relaxation techniques I had learned at the leadership seminar. Unfortunately, the techniques did not seem to have the desired effect! But as time passed and I listened to one speaker after another, I realized that there was no need to be nervous. Everyone at the rally shared the goal of creating a more peaceful society.

When it was my turn to speak, I took a deep breath, smiled and plunged in. It ended up being a lot of fun and we were able to communicate our messages to hundreds of people and the members of the media. After the gathering, I felt like I was on cloud nine. That day, I realized that young people really can change the world! Organizations like the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation include youth in their actions, and this is the first step to creating a more just and humane world. Young people must be involved in all facets of social change. Young people bring new energy, enthusiasm, and perspectives and would only be an asset to any cause.