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Teen conference at Wayne State turned strangers into friends

November 1, 2012

Michigan’s longest-running teen conference continued at Wayne State University on Oct. 30, when 276 teens set aside differences and learned to get along. For 29 years, the Giant Step Teen Conference has promoted harmony across diverse groups through frank discussion that bridges race, culture, ethnicity, religion and income. More than 5,200 area students have attended Giant Step since the conference began.

This year’s keynote speaker was Ronnie Bachman, who inspired teens with his story of survival and success. Ron was born with legs so badly deformed they hindered his ability to crawl. At age 4, his parents made the difficult decision to have both legs amputated at the hip. Today he scoots through audiences, hugging teens and sharing his message about being unique and different.  “Kids who are hurting, who have been bullied, look at me and know that I get it,” Ron said.  “I’ve been where they are.  If I can get through it, so can they.”
Teens attended the free Giant Step conference from urban, suburban, public, private, charter, parochial, magnet and specialty high schools, and even home schools throughout southeast Michigan. Trained facilitators guided student discussions on topics like bullying, friendship, disabilities, parents, self-image, career plans and conflict. 
“Ron Bachman reminded me to be grateful,” said a 14-year-old girl from Divine Child Academy. “When he told us to stand up, just because we could, and to appreciate the legs we take for granted, I almost started crying.” 
Trudy Shiemke, who has coordinated the conference since its inception, said the event is an excellent fit with the mission of its host organization, Wayne State’s Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. “We are committed to helping children at all stages, from birth through early adulthood,” she said. “Young teens have excellent potential for attitude change and learning how to keep an open mind about others.”
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