While the keynote presentation Thursday at the Quad-City Youth Conference touched on serious issues facing teens today — school violence, abusive relationships, substance abuse, bullying and divorce — the overall message was to give hope to local students dealing with those issues.

Conference chairman Glen Evans said the goal of the 27th annual conference was to make the students aware that resources are available to them when dealing with difficult issues.

“These kids need an outlet,” Evans said. “We need to let every one of these kids know that they are special.”

About 300 students from 16 area high schools attended Thursday’s session at the RiverCenter in Davenport. About 300 middle school students from throughout the area attended a session Wednesday.

Thursday’s keynote presentation was performed by the Chicago-based theatre troupe Messages Which Are Hopeful, or MWAH! The teenage members of the group discussed several serious issues, interspersed with musical and dance performances.

Troupe member Justice Henderson spoke about being bullied when he lived in Dallas. He said he was hopeful that it wouldn’t continue when his family moved to the Chicago area, but was saddened when it did.

“It wasn’t my choice to be born, but now that I have been born, I’m going to do everything in my power to do what’s right for me,” he said before the group performed Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

While the teens’ true stories of their own struggles were compelling, an adult speaker, Heather Briscolino of Rolling Meadow, Ill., said she was hopeful her experience would hit home with the students.

Briscolino spoke about the death of her 16-year-old son, Quinn Dombrow, who was killed Aug. 10, 2011, in a single-car accident near Galesburg, Ill.

Dombrow was a passenger in a car driven by his best friend, Dustin Frazier, 16. Frazier lost control of the car while traveling at about 120 mph.

“They weren’t drunk, they weren’t high, they were just excited,” Briscolino said.

Briscolino said the accident was the result of a “stupid and 100 percent preventable choice,” but no one will ever know for sure what the boys were thinking.

“What I do know is that I don’t have my son anymore,” she said.

Briscolino talked about the pain her son’s death has caused her family, particularly her 9-year-old son.

“His birthday wish in December was to bring his brother back, and that was the only gift I couldn’t give him,” she said.

Briscolino urged the students to listen to the stories they were hearing Thursday morning.

“I want you guys to think about your choices,” she told the students.

Briscolino said after the performance that she has spoken at six or seven MWAH! performances, and hopes her story has an impact on the students.

“I want them to see it first-hand,” she said.

Mackenzie Smith, 14, a freshman at Orion (Ill.) High School, said Briscolino’s story gave her and her classmates something to think about as they prepare to become drivers.

Anna Nordstrom, 14, also a freshman at Orion High School, said she thought the group’s lesson about not judging others before you get to know them was important.

Both girls said the music and dancing in the performance kept the lessons being taught from being boring.

“They made it really fun,” Mackenzie said.

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