Around 90 local middle school and a few high school students gathered at Wittenberg University on Thursday to share and celebrate the accomplishments of this school year.
“Be the Change” was a follow-up to a fall youth summit in which the students learned how to work for community-level change, with a focus on improved parent connection. The event was a collaborative effort between WellSpring and Clark County Partners in Prevention (PIP). Ohio Mental Health Addiction Services provided funding, and “Dance, Stomp, Shake” was the event sponsor.
Projects ranged from promoting reading for underserved families to turning off electronics in favor of family-oriented events. Participating were Ridgewood School; Roosevelt Middle School; Schaefer Middle School; Hayward Middle School; School of Innovation and Shawnee Middle School.
“They are able to articulate the challenges and concerns from their daily lives and then create substantive projects to address them,” said Beth Dixon of WellSpring, who helped mentor the groups. “When you witness their optimism and drive to be fully engaged, it actually makes you excited about the future.”
While PIP focuses on substance abuse prevention and information, the goal for this was to introduce protective factors, said Carey McKee of PIP, including building self-confidence, leadership skills, pride in community and having their schools feel connected.
“I’ve walked into the schools and was so impressed with the way these kids have put together these projects,” she said. “We really wanted to improve the family connection.”
Another positive is by focusing primarily on middle school students, it will give the participants more skills to enter high school with. It made a difference for Springfield High freshmen Dorion Briscoe and Victoria Stewart, who participated in last year’s Youth Summit and returned to work with these students.
Briscoe said although it seemed like long ago, the experience he gained expanded his point of view, gave him new ideas and confidence in public speaking, skills Stewart said she also attained.
“It’s good to bring the change, even if it’s really scary at first. It helps open your mind,” Stewart said.
Eighth-graders Emerson Babian and Usayd Ashraf and seventh-grader Harrison Young represented Ridgewood’s project, dubbed Shelf Life, for which they built bookshelves for needy families. Bookshelves alone aren’t much good without reading material, so they also acquired books.
“A really good way for parents to connect with their children is through reading,” said Babian of the choice.
Their project began in August, gained a $700 grant, conducted a book drive and had a pot luck to contribute to the project. They were able to get 10-15 books to the families.
Ashraf said he gained confidence in his speaking abilities and was excited to share their project during the presentations. Gaining leadership skills will enable Young with Ridgewood’s next project in the coming school year.
Shawnee Middle School dubbed its project Brave Family Fun, or BFF. Its goal was to bring families together through an event featuring games, prizes and cake walks among the attractions.
Tiarra Farmer admitted she had low expectations early on, only to be pleasantly surprised. Shawnee had 12 students on the project, 20 other volunteers for the event and 83 parents, more than she anticipated.
“It was fun watching the kids winning prizes and having a good time,” Farmer said.
The experience taught Farmer she likes helping people and will look for similar activities as she transitions to high school.
“It gave me a boost of confidence that I can change things and help people. It was also very fun,” she said.
Other projects included Grow Love UNPLUG at Roosevelt, Select to Connect at Schaefer, My Family. My Rock at Hayward and There’s Room at My Table at School of Innovation.
Participants shared their projects with their peers, parents and community leaders gathered on Thursday. But there was also fun with photo booths, a wind chime for wellness project, music bingo and inspirational speakers.
Some of the participants will continue their growth at the Champion City Youth Rally in June. Dixon is enthused by the kids’ interest.
“The times we are living in make it easy to be pessimistic and fearful of what the future may hold. But anyone who sees these students in action will come away impressed and inspired by what these future leaders have accomplished,” she said.