Youth Groups Rising In Southern WV
Youth groups in southern West Virginia are encouraging high school students to get involved in public policy issues, which at times means meeting with the staff of public officials. PHOTO courtesy of the AFSC.
October 31, 2013
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Youth groups in southern West Virginia are teaching young people they can change the world, and their own futures. Lida Shepherd, program director for the Appalachian Center for Equality Youth Leadership of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), said she is working with groups of high schoolers in Logan, Mingo and Boone counties. She says they decide what they want to work on - often issues such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, domestic violence or bullying - and Shepherd says they can end up researching the issues and talking to lawmakers about their concerns and what they've experienced in their own lives.
"It's very scary for them, like it is for lots of people, but they come away feeling like, 'Wow, that felt good.' Jasmine spoke at the state Capitol about growing up with her dad in prison, and the prison bill passed," Shepherd said.
Believing All Is Possible - BAPS! - is in Logan County. Boone County has the EmPowered Intelligent Chicks - EPIC. Tug Valley High School sophomore Daisha Brewer, 15, is a member of Mingo GLOW Girls, short for Girls Lead Our World. Brewer said she was one of the people behind Mix It Up At Lunch Day at the school. That's an event where students sit at randomly assigned tables for the meal, designed to break up the cliques a bit. Brewer said it was very satisfying to be involved in making it happen.
"We do this kind of stuff, it gets people to open their minds a little more. If I would have brought it up, not a lot would have happened," Brewer said, "but now that I'm in a group, it's easier to get my opinion out and them think about it and say, 'This would actually be pretty good.'"
Brewer, the daughter of a coal miner, is thinking about going to college to study psychology. Shepherd said one purpose of the groups is to open the members up to new horizons. One of them put it well, she added.
"He said it, I think, better than anyone. He said, 'You don't know what you don't see.' If they're not seeing what a college campus looks like or pursing positive action in the community, they won't know what that looks like," Shepherd said.
It's neat to see the kids change and feel empowered by the process, Shepherd added.