Empower Youth is Ready for School!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
–from Dr. Seuss “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

I have always relished “Back to School” season. Even though the last time I sat as a student in grade school was some 33 years ago, I still get all jumpy with excitement when there is the hint of pencil shavings and what used to be chalk dust flying in the air. Of course, times have changed in 33 years and there’s not so much chalk dust as there is the tapping of a smart board or the hush of a dry eraser… but still the one thing that hasn’t changed after all these years is the great smell of those sharpie markers! Fresh bulletin board paper and the squeaks of new sneakers remind us it’s time for school like the bell ringers at Wal-mart remind us of Christmas.

And while, my heart leaps with joy when I see all those pictures of happy faces on facebook showing off their first day of school outfit and new book bag, I must admit there is a numbing feeling as I look and see so many more students coming in with last year’s book bag, the shine on their hand-me-down sneakers was rubbed off long ago, and worse their eyes reflect a pool of anxiety, fear, or worse yet just pure dimness.

Empower Youth has a heart for all children. There is no greater joy than watching a child succeed and meet their goals. It’s beautiful to see a child beam with pride when they have finally tackled a challenge—whether it’s a math problem, speaking in front of the class, or even being brave and trying out for a place on the team or a part in the play. When our children succeed everybody wins. The family wins. A child who is a success story becomes a catalyst for change in every family. And when families change, the neighbors pay attention. Soon neighborhoods change.

How can this happen? It happens when someone finally takes notice and does what Empower Youth did this summer and help send over 50 children to camp. For many children, this was their first time away from home. What did they learn? The learned this world is bigger than down the block. They learned there are many places to go.

Empower Youth served over 3000 meals to our community with the only goal of just getting to know our neighbors. What happened? We found out that we like our neighbors! We found out that some of us are doing great and some of us have hit a slump. In this community, we learned that many of us can help our neighbors get “unslumped” and on down the road a little farther.

Empower Youth provided some extra fun stuff for Bethel’s Tiger Tools night and managed to sign up over 100 families interested in sending their children to camp next year. Even better, by having a moon bounce and giant slide and snow cones, parents had a chance to let their children play on what was a rather hectic evening. We even started to take signups for tutoring.

This article started with a quote from “Oh, The Places You Will Go!” This book gets me all excited about the potential within each one of us. When I was younger, I remember watching a show called “The Peggy Mitchell Show” and she would look through a mirror and she would tell the television audience that she saw “Bobby” and “Susie” and she would just keep naming names. I remember being so excited when she said “Lori” one day. I couldn’t believe she knew me. I sat a little taller that day in Kindergarten class and here we are 40 years later and I still remember that she knew me. Being known was huge. Being known means that I have something to give to my world. Being known means that there is a place and there is purpose for me.

That’s it! That’s what Empower Youth wants to give to the children of Bethel, Felicity, and Hamersville. We want to let children know that they are known and that there is nothing that they cannot achieve. How do we do this? Honestly, I’m still working on that. But I think it starts with empowering the people who interact with our students every day. It starts with helping teachers with resources. It starts with being a part of parent teacher groups. It starts with handing out pillows to children who don’t have one and saying “you deserve a good night’s sleep.” It starts with taking a group of 3rd graders for a college visit before their minds have already been convinced that they will never pass high school. It starts with somebody like the lady I talked to tonight who said, “I have a piece of land for a community garden.” It starts by listening to a mom of teenagers saying she’d love to start a parenting group, and then saying “let’s do it.” How do we empower our youth? We give them role models. How do we empower our youth? We take a minute to say, “I know you… Now, tell me what’s happening in your life.”

Empowering youth takes funds… it takes energy… it takes organization. But most of all it takes—Will! Do you have the will within you to give our youth a future? If you have the will, as Director of Empower Youth, I promise—we can find a way to help our youth.

Let the children be known!

Lori Conley, Director of Empower Youth

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

–Dr. Seuss “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

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