‘Our community is not lost’

Conference focuses on ways to tackle youth issues
Jun. 17, 2014 @ 07:42 PM

The Champions for Children conference was a daylong series of gang violence, trauma and cyber-bullying prevention workshops.

Community leaders from across the state met at Northern Vance High School on Tuesday, courtesy of the Vance Gang Awareness Partnership, to learn new ways to tackle these issues.

Ahmed Toure and Cam Mitchell, representatives from a Charlotte-based youth development nonprofit called Leading for Change, led about 10 students from Vance County schools in the teen session.

Physical activity tested youths’ abilities to form opinions, make healthy decisions and develop solutions to their communities’ problems.

“It was awesome,” said Tony Burwell, a seventh-grader at Henderson Collegiate. “It taught us that we should have our own back, but good people in the community will have our back as well. Their exercises taught us the life lessons we need. Gangs are not who we are, but we are the people that should be going to college.”

Down the hall, youth specialists conducted classes for members of the local community.

Danya Perry relayed his experiences as the director of program and youth development with Communities in Schools of North Carolina to show the empathy associated with helping young people escape gang life, and Youth Villages of Durham outpatient therapist Kris Sheridan taught skills to uplift children facing family crisis and abuse.

Director of the Vance County Department of Social Services Antonia Pedroza said both classes provided great information, but she wanted to see it put to use.

“It’s the same story that we hear over and over,” she said. “We need to focus on children ages three to six now, or we will pay the consequences later. It’s always been that way, but it doesn’t happen that easily.”

Regional manager Bobbie Jo Hopf traveled from her office at Youth Villages to attend the conference.

She said she learned a lot from the North Carolina Department of Justice outreach specialist NimaSheena Burns’s lecture on the issues parents and others need to know about today’s youth.

“I think she provided great info on how we can increase security around cyberbullying and what steps to take to keep it from happening,” she said. “I thought it was really interesting when she said bullying resulted from retaliation of things that happened at school.”

Other sessions included information on providing alternatives techniques to get children reading fluently and with comprehension and Kwain Bryant’s keynote address.

He is founder of Empowerment Exchange, an organization that provides vocational training to at-risk youth in Charlotte. He said workshops like Champions of Children are important to make sure teachers and mentors continue to connect with youth on a deeper level.

“You might not see an immediate impact,” he said. “But it will surface over time. This is a great opportunity for the community and for young people.”

The conference was a partnership between the Vance Gang Awareness Partnership, the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Infinite Possibilities and Vance County Schools.

Kanika Turrentine, executive director of Infinite Possibilities, said it was a great day for people to learn how to get through to children and make a positive difference in their lives.

“Our kids are not lost,” she said. “Our community is not lost. We just need to empower our children in a more positive way.”


Contact the writer at dhairston@hendersondispatch.com.