Orange County youth tackle substance abuse and more at 2023 FNL Youth Summit

Over the weekend, students from across California gathered in Anaheim with the aim of creating a “Limitless” future by tackling such issues as substance use prevention, project planning and leadership. 

Approximately 1,000 students and advisors from Friday Night Live (FNL) clubs throughout the state attended the 2023 FNL Youth Summit, including 55 representatives from nine different high schools in Orange County.

Speaking of Orange County, two prominent members from the Orange County Youth Council played a pivotal role in organizing the two-day event based on the theme “Limitless.” Ella Townsend, a junior from Fairmont Preparatory Academy in Anaheim, and Nhu Cao, a freshman at UCLA who previously attended Santiago High School in the Garden Grove Unified School District, began planning in August.

​​​“Planning the Youth Summit was a challenging but rewarding experience,” said Ella. “It required constant communication, strong organization and, of course, the motivation to continue. However, receiving support from other California Youth Council members and ultimately seeing our hard work come together make it all worth it.”

Student and keynote speaker
Keynote speaker Vic Blends, left, was a highlight for attendees at the 2023 FNL Youth Summit.

The Orange County Youth Council includes 19 students who represent Friday Night Live clubs at their ​high schools, along with one college student. The council advises on countywide substance abuse prevention efforts and mental health initiatives from a youth perspective while participating in a number of special projects and activities. ​

The FNL Youth Summit has become an annual event that’s hosted by the California Friday Night Live Partnership. The latest summit, which took place on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8, gave students an opportunity to participate in a variety of workshops and presentations on topics such as substance use prevention, project planning, leadership, social-emotional learning and youth development. 

For many attendees, a highlight was the keynote presentation delivered by Vic Blends. The barber from Fayetteville, North Carolina has gone viral on social media and generated media interest for giving free haircuts in exchange for meaningful conversations.

Fentanyl awareness and prevention

Meanwhile, six members of the Orange County Youth Council presented a workshop on fentanyl awareness with support from OCDE staff members Alicia Escobar, an FNL project assistant, and Stephan Lambert, coordinator of prevention education. 

Designed primarily for teens, the workshop shed light on opioids, including illicit fentanyl, while outlining risk factors, prevention strategies and resources to help those in need. It also included a call to action, encouraging FNL leaders to help get the word out on their school campuses. 

Fentanyl awareness workshop
Six Orange County students led a workshop on fentanyl awareness at the FNL Youth Summit, which included presentations on substance use prevention, project planning, leadership, social-emotional learning and more.

“The wide range of dangers in today’s world have produced devastating outcomes in recent years, and together, by learning as a community, we can try to stop these problems and promote positive change,” said presenter Dillon Patel, a 10th-grader from El Modena High in the Orange Unified School District.

Fellow presenter Mia Alvarez, a senior at Bolsa Grande High in the Garden Grove Unified School District, underscored the value of a peer-to-peer approach. 

“The highlight of the presentation was listening to different ideas on practicing self-care and strategies to spread awareness of the dangers of fentanyl on their campus,” she said. “It offered me a new perspective, and it was amazing to see people’s creativity and passion for promoting mental and physical health.”

OC Friday Night Live Partnership

Led by OCDE, the Orange County Friday Night Live Partnership encourages young people to take the lead on substance abuse prevention campaigns and service projects in their communities while building life skills like leadership, communication and problem-solving. The partnership, which was created in 1992, is based on a state model and supported by the OC Health Care Agency’s Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Team, or ADEPT.

The OCFNLP program consists of three tiers: High-school students participate in Friday Night Live chapters, middle schoolers engage with Club Live groups, and younger students join Friday Night Live Kids chapters. 

Under the guidance of advisors, many of these groups operate as school clubs, while others are affiliated with community organizations. 

For more information about the Orange County Friday Night Live Partnership, visit or contact Elke Petras, coordinator of Youth Development Programs for OCDE, at or 714-966-4458.