Reaching Greater Heights Youth Summit

BY HOLLY KESTENIS Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Fifth Avenue Church of Christ’s youth summit was in full swing Sat., March 21 as elementary through college students showed up for a day of information on everything from community opportunities for teens to economics empowerment.

The summit, intent on steering the youth in the right direction, led off with prayer before breaking up into six 30 minute sessions where they learned everything from how to save money to staying out of the justice system.

Coach Carlos Daniels from Campbell Park Recreation Center spoke about opportunities with TASCO. Short for Teen Arts, Sports, and Cultural Opportunities, TASCO has been in the community for over 20 years providing center-based programs and special events as well as helping to educate the youth. From technology such as video production to various sports, TASCO aims to steer children away trouble.

“At Campbell Park we’re trying to find activities during the summer time so you all won’t get caught up in some other bad elements,” said Daniels. He has worked for nearly 28 years in the Parks and Recreation Department and along with Coach Tim Murray they both work to create sporting opportunities in order to keep kids busy.

Attendees were made aware of the before and after school opportunities and the summer program that is no charge for students on free and reduced lunch.

Henry Johnson of Common Sense Motivational Speaking came next, inspiring the group to aim toward becoming their own men and women, not just followers.

Johnson used to be a juvenile probation officer where he saw countless children make the wrong decisions time and time again. Currently he enjoys speaking straight up with teens on the important issues affecting their lives each day.

“What do people call you,” he asked the room, emphasizing that it’s not about what you call yourself, but what somebody is going to say about you. “You can say you’re a man, but there’s a lot that entails.”

Johnson encouraged both boys and girls to emulate positive role models and not look to the wrong type of individuals when it comes to making important life decisions. “You can’t miss what you’re close to,” he said. “Some of them will rub off on you.”

Another organization that is working hard for teens and young adults is Youth Connect. Providing up to $3,500 for students to begin technical or vocational training, Youth Connect is making an impact in the community. After completing specialized programs in an array of job fields, such as nursing, dental assisting or auto tech and body, graduates can make $20-$30 an hour when they are finished.

So if you are finding yourself wanting to go to college but don’t have the funds for it, the $3,500 goes a long way in paying for a spot in a technical program.

“Never think that education is not important,” said Senior Youth Career Coordinator Sandra Contreras. She believes learning something tangible that can be used to promote a positive future is a sure thing. “Nobody can take education from you,” she said. “It will always be with you.”

The teen summit was sure to invite young adults such as Marshae Scott to connect with the youths. Scott, who earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Finance, along with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, had difficulty finding a job when she graduated. After volunteering at the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL), she was hired on and for the last eight months has been guiding others in looking for jobs and making themselves more employable.

Scott discussed the various programs the PCUL offers such as low-income energy assistance and the highways to health program with their mobile bus gassed up and ready to go.

Ariel Finnissee discussed the NULITES program for children aged 10-18 and encouraged those in attendance to sign up and take part. The club meets at Childs Park YMCA every third and fourth Saturday of the month where they play theme based games and listen to guest speakers.

“There are different routes to everything,” said Finnissee. “That’s what we try to inform the kids about.”

Various other programs were discussed such as the STYLE, a summer program for 14-16 year olds where students learn about starting their own business and financial literacy, earning a $500 stipend upon completion.

Jade Spradley spoke to the youths about a relatively new program called the Florida Urban Youth Empowerment Program (UYEP) where special emphasis is placed on minorities who are disconnected from traditional education and job systems. The UYEP delivers academics, career exploration and personal development opportunities for young adults between the ages of 16 and 24.

James Myles, executive director of Bethel Community Foundation, Inc. got the chance to speak with the youth about what to do and what not to do in today’s society reciting some alarming statistics. Myles said that last year alone some 4,900 kids were arrested for juvenile offenses. These included, but were not limited to, shoplifting, battery, stealing cars and breaking into houses.

“All those are crimes,” Myles informed. “There’s some forgiveness in the juvenile justice system, but not as much as you think.”

Myles also enlightened the youth to the fact that their juvenile record will not just disappear when they become an adult. When applying for any government job, the military, a job in education or even a college scholarship, the past can be an open book.

“It doesn’t disappear,” he continued. “This notion that ‘I can just cut the fool and do what I want to do as a juvenile’ is not true.”

And with almost 3,000 of those 4,900 juvenile delinquents roaming around Pinellas County being African American, Myles was sure to ask the teens why that was.

“We’ve forgotten who we are and where we came from,” said Myles as he passed out a list of African cultural norms. He got teens such as Ammeshia from Lakewood High School and Josh from Gibbs High to join in the discussion and to stop and think about their choices.

Wells Fargo Bank Manager Madeline Minier and Community Financial Educator Shawn Lanier with the GTE Credit Union both spoke to the kids about saving money, being financially responsible, how to use credit wisely and the difference between good and bad debt.

Mentoring Coordinator Jim Oliver with the Community Mentoring Program was there to encourage students to ask for a mentor if they need help in academics, help with their family dynamics or just getting to know themselves better.

Oliver recruits, trains and assigns mentors to students. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, the next monthly information session will be April 14 at 6 p.m. at the Creole Café, 901 22nd St. S., St. Petersburg. You can also contact Oliver directly at 727-557-8531.

Tiffany Tunsil conducted her session on the Fifth Avenue Mentoring Program, which is a program that empowers Christian and at-risk youth in our community to make positive life choices that enable them to maximize their personal potential. For more information, log on to www.5thavementors.org.

City Councilman Steve Kornell spent the whole day at the summit attending session after session. At the end he spoke to youth on voting and getting involved to make changes.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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