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Area organizations draw in youth with fun at event
Emma Nester, 9, throws a ball through a hoop while sitting on a saddle on a barrel at the Tackfully Teamed booth Sunday at the Youth Passport Challenge at the Smith River Sports Complex. Melissa Thompson (left) assists as Susan Warren (right) holds the basketball rim. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Think there’s nothing for young people to do in this area? Think again.
Representatives of dozens of area groups and institutions spent Sunday afternoon showing young people and their parents the variety of opportunities and services available to them here, whether it is volunteering to walk a dog at the local SPCA or getting involved with Piedmont Arts’ Teen Arts Council.
The event was called the Youth Passport Challenge. It was sponsored by The Harvest Foundation and held at the Smith River Sports Complex.
Twenty-eight area groups set up booths around several soccer fields at the complex. Some gave out information, others held games, and all spread their message that young people have many options in the community.
At the entrance to the challenge area, each youth was given a “passport” or paper with the name of each vendor with a booth. The passports were initialed at each booth. Youths who visited each booth turned in their passport at the end to be eligible for a drawing for prizes, including a mountain bike donated by Activate.
Jeri Walker, 14, who attends Laurel Park Middle School, spent 30 seconds running in place in a challenge issued by CoventryCares of VA. Those who lasted the 30 seconds — the time of most television commercials, according to Kent Berryman of CoventryCares — could choose between a prize of a Frisbee or a jump rope.
“It’s fun,” Walker said of the Youth Passport Challenge.
“It’s extra quality family time,” added her mother, Angie Massey of Axton.
At the Henry County Schools’ booth, Registered Nurses Lisa Gardner of Magna Vista High School and Jerri Crews of Stanleytown Elementary School were showing young people how to do the Heimlich Maneuver, used when people are choking, on dummies.
The maneuver is a lifesaving tool, Gardner said, and something all students now in the ninth grade and younger will have to know to graduate from high school, according to a new state law.
The SPCA booth featured several dogs from the shelter. The SPCA wanted to let young people know they are welcome to volunteer after school walking the dogs and socializing with the animals, according to Chase Inman of the SPCA staff.
MHC After 3, which targets middle and high school students, was giving out information on its programs, holding Hula Hoop challenges with prizes, displaying student artwork and more.
Shanna Francisco-King, director of MHC After 3, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science, said with the passport challenge, “we hope to connect young people with opportunities to get involved in things they didn’t know about.”
Henry County resident Mark Gilbert said that he was learning some new things as he went through the challenge with his daughter, Katie Gilbert, 13, who attends Martinsville Middle School.
“I’ve seen some things I didn’t realize were out there,” he said, specifically mentioning Martinsville Macaroni Kid, a free website and e-newsletter featuring family friendly activities.
Katie Gilbert said she would like to be more involved in the community, and she is interested in CHILL, a group which promotes positive choice for young people, as a result of what she learned Sunday.
The passport challenge grew out of a February planning meeting of agencies that serve youth in the area, according to Gladys Hairston, program officer for The Harvest Foundation.
“Harvest gets a lot of requests (for grants) related to youth,” but many are similar, Hairston said.
Over five months, more than 40 representatives of local organizations worked to develop a Positive Youth Development Community Action Plan, she said. During that process, it became apparent that many families were not aware of the activities and services available in the community, she has said. Some groups were not even aware of each other, she added Sunday.
So the Youth Passport Challenge was created to remedy that. “The event showcases what they do” and shows that the groups and organizations can work together, Hairston added.
Brian Hairston, Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H agent for Henry County and Martinsville and one of the event organizers, gave the example of the cooperative extension service. He said people know it deals with 4-H programs, but they do know realize it also works with agriculture, life sciences, technology and other areas.
“Some things I didn’t know,” he said, despite the fact that he has lived here all his life.
Allyson Rothrock, president of The Harvest Foundation, said she was “thrilled” with the event as she handed out passports to youth entering the event. It showed young people and their parents that there are active, healthy things to do in the area, she said.
The groups had worked hard to put on the event, she said, adding that next year she hopes to have even more organizations involved.