More than 60 teens from Arizona attended BBYO’s 95th International Convention in Denver, which hosted more than 3,000 teens from across the U.S. and dozens of countries.
“At first I was really nervous because I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t really interested in going at all,” said Desert Mountain High School student Aiden David. “But, once I got there, my opinion changed immediately. I was blown away and loved every second of it.”
David said that the during his first BBYO International Convention he met many new people from all over the country. For many teens who attend the annual convention, this opportunity to make new friends is part of the reason they go.
This year’s convention was the third one Brophy College Preparatory student Ryan Marmis has attended. He has a group of friends he sees each year at the event and has heard stories about relationships forming that have continued on after BBYO.
“The feeling on the first day when everyone first sees each other in over a year is something really special,” Marmis said. “There’s a lot of laughing, screaming and crying when we reunite. I think that developing a connection that is rooted in our Judaism helps us create a stronger community for years to come.”
David said he made friends with someone from New Jersey. The two continue to keep in touch, talking to each other every day since the convention ended. David hopes to see his new friend again at next year’s convention.
BBYO Vice President of Community Engagement and David’s mother, Jayme David, said the convention is an experience you can hear, feel, see and smell.
“New friends are made, camp friends reunite and you get to meet teens from 40 different countries,” Jayme said. “A lot of thought is put into creating such an inclusive environment, so we make sure there is something for everyone.”
The theme of this year’s convention was “Our Turn,” which BBYO’s website stated was chosen to “speak to today’s vital need and incredible opportunity for young people to be significant forces of change as they lead in their communities and society.”
As one of the largest annual Jewish communal events, the convention offered teens the chance to expand their leadership skills, serve the local community, learn together, celebrate Shabbat and have access to exclusive music performances.
The convention also featured many different speakers, such as U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Olympic medalist and LGBTQ activist Adam Rippon and comedian Chelsea Handler.
For David, one of his favorite speakers was Justin Gallegos, who is the first athlete with cerebral palsy to sign with Nike’s clothing brand. In June 2016, Gallegos won gold in the 400 meters in the Paralympics-Ambulatory division at the California State Track & Field Championships. Most recently, he completed the 2018 Eugene Half Marathon in Oregon.
Marmis also was very inspired by Gallegos’ presentation.
“He really made you feel like there’s nothing that can hold you back,” Marmis said.
The 2019 conference also had teens rally around the charitable organization Knock Knock Give a Sock. The nonprofit began with the simple goal to donate socks to the homeless. According to the nonprofit’s website, socks are some of the least donated articles of clothing, but the most needed.
The organization’s founder, Adina Lichtman, spoke at the convention and told the story of how Knock Knock Give a Sock came to be. The convention encouraged the visiting teens to bring an extra pair of socks that could be donated to the nonprofit.
The convention also showcased the diversity of the BBYO community with 240 teens from 40 countries attending the iconic event. For the first time, delegates from Costa Rica, which is the 50th country to join the BBYO global community, attended the convention.
Another major highlight at this year’s event was the announcement that BBYO had received its largest donation to date. Chicago industrialist Theodore Perlman, founder of The HAVI Group, and his wife, Harriette, pledged $25 million.
The gift will allow BBYO to launch the The Anita M. Perlman Women’s Leadership Initiative, which is named in honor of Perlman’s mother. Anita founded B’nai B’rith Girls, a division of BBYO, which marked its 75th anniversary this year.
Marmis said that while each convention is special, this one felt even more so because of the donation. He cannot wait to go back next year.
“Three-thousand plus Jewish strangers coming together and having a good time made me realize that there are so many more people just like me out there.” JN