Youth symposium addresses issues

Published 7:27 pm Saturday, January 31, 2009

Youth leader Tyron Riddick, a King’s Fork High School student, was asking his peers a question.

“What are some major community projects we can be involved in?” he asked. Tyron was leading a workshop at Saturday’s Youth Symposium, a first-ever program that leaders hope to continue.

When Tyron realized his workshop participants were drawing a blank, he took action.

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“Guess what? Let’s create one,” he said.

Tyron instructed those in his group to leave their contact information for him, and he would e-mail them later to spark some ideas of community projects.

That’s exactly what leaders of the program hoped would happen.

The symposium, presented by the Suffolk Office on Youth, Suffolk Parks and Recreation, the Suffolk Youth Advisory Council and Western Tidewater Community Services Board, brought together the city’s youth leaders in a forum where they could talk about issues they are facing, said Jennifer Branham, youth services coordinator for the city. It’s an important topic in a world that pulls youth in so many directions at once, she said.

“They’re saying they’re being pressured to be part of a gang,” she said. “It’s not cool to be in a leadership position, or to be the smart kid in class.”

The Youth Advisory Council, a group of middle and high school students chosen for their leadership abilities, helped to develop and administer the program, Branham said. The youth council generated a list of about 20 issues they felt needed to be addressed, and then narrowed it down to four – civic engagement, peer pressure, leadership and gang awareness.

At the symposium, youth ages 11 to 18 chose two workshops from the four topics to attend, breaking into small groups and spending 45 minutes in discussion.

“I really do want to make a difference,” said Denise Bailey, a Nansemond River High School student, after one of the workshops. “I have a purpose in life.”

Denise said she often volunteers at local homeless shelters and nursing homes, but there is more work that more people could get involved in.

“I do what I can, but I feel like there’s so much more to be done,” she said.

Stephanie Hawkins, a mother of six, enrolled her youngest two sons in the program after finding out her older son would be one of the presenters. She then stayed with them throughout the program.

“I find it easier to join in than for them to find something to do themselves,” she said. “If they know you’re interested, they’ll be interested.”

About 120 young people attended the program, Branham said. Many came from church and community groups, but some parents registered their children individually after hearing about it. Leaders hope the event will become an annual program.

“It takes a lot of mentoring,” Branham said. “I do believe that the youth want this.”