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Parents still have a vital role

On Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the first-ever Suffolk Youth Achievement Awards.

These awards, I was told, were designed to encourage and reward positive behavior in young people by recognizing them at a luncheon. Nine young people and one group (Lakeland High School’s Men of Distinction) were rewarded for their good deeds in community service, leadership, arts, athletics and the “Rising Star” award.

To qualify for these awards, each young person had to submit letters of recommendation from several authority figures, whether it was their coach, band teacher, or leader of the agency where they did their community service. Each one also had to provide proof from school that he or she is in good standing at school, both academically and behaviorally.

These nine wonderful young people — Melvin Porter, Kara Dixon, Kenny Rice, Amanda Hamm, Michaela Twitty, Melissa Lewis, Meagan Whitfield, Brittany Holland and Benjamin Corbett — collectively represented five of the city’s middle and high schools.

They each have accomplished much in their young lives — one sat first-chair clarinet in a citywide band; one is entrepreneur of her own event planning business; one has lettered in three sports; one gave up her free time to help raise money for the March of Dimes and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Perhaps the most inspiring story was that of Melvin Porter. The seventh-grader turned his life around after being a troublemaker and landing himself in a discipline-oriented school program. Through the inspiration of his parents and his little brother, he said, he is now back in the regular classroom and making the honor roll.

The idea behind these awards is that by encouraging positive behavior, adults can head off negative influences in the lives of the young people surrounding them, whether in their own children, grandchildren, other relatives, students or children in the community.

While it’s certainly true that encouraging positive behavior can prevent negative behavior, these nine young people certainly didn’t start on the path to greatness at Saturday’s luncheon. They each have clearly had parents and other adults in their lives who were involved, informed and motivated to ensure their children succeeded. Rare is the child who is able to motivate and discipline himself without the guidance of adults.

The message to parents at the luncheon — and I’m repeating this message to all you parents out there — is to get involved and stay that way. I’m not a parent, but I certainly had a couple of good ones and many other involved adults in my life, so I’m telling you that being involved works.

Ask any of the parents of Saturday’s honorees — I guarantee they’ll agree.