The young man came to the podium a little shaky.
By the time he finished his story of being kicked out of his mother's home at 15, being stabbed by a sibling and ultimately attending college, the audience was rapt. He then confidently strode offstage to applause.
The testimonial by Joshua Daves, 23, a SUNY Cortland junior studying communications, was part of the fourth annual Young Leaders Speak Out at Huntington High School this week.
Daves and other local "young leaders" spoke Monday to dozens of students from across Huntington and beyond, including many who may be at risk, on the realities of life and the consequences of the decisions they make. The event is hosted by the Huntington-based Young Leaders club and held each year just before school lets out.
The event is meant to motivate students and serve as a call to the community to support its young people.
"One of the most vital tools we can use as young adults is speaking to the youths about what we have been through," Daves, of Huntington, said. "So they know we know what they are going through and can achieve no matter what obstacles are before them."
What started out with a party atmosphere, complete with blaring music, turned into a powerful evening of shared information and inspiration.
Daves' was not the only tale that alternately brought laughter and tears to the audience. This year's speakers talked about bullying, the need for a recreation center in Huntington Station, having a goal and maintaining the drive to achieve it. A mother shared the story of her son's suicide, driven by the use of marijuana and Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug.
Kevin Thorbourne, co-founder of Young Leaders, said his club goal is to serve the many young people in the community who may be dealing with issues at home, who need advice, encouragement and reminders that when exposed to crime and illegal activities, a quick decision can negatively impact their entire life.
"This is to help the kids, especially those on the borderline, to let them realize other people have problems like they do but they can get past that barrier," said Thorbourne, who co-founded the club in 2001 with Kevin Zaharios and Ron Wilson.