02/18/08 — Students speak out on need for teen activities in county

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Students speak out on need for teen activities in county

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 18, 2008 1:52 PM

Teens in Wayne County need a place to gather with their peers, a safe option to gangs and other activities that only lead to trouble, a group of students from Goldsboro High School shared recently.

The students, from the "Choices for Success," were invited to speak to the Teen Pregnancy Task Force Friday, along with their adviser, Nakisha Floyd, a health educator at the school. The curriculum centers around lively debate about issues and concerns faced by young people.

The task force, sponsored by WATCH, or Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, is comprised of representatives from such organizations as the Health Department, Wayne Memorial Hospital, Goldsboro Housing Authority, and the school system.

Sissy Lee-Elmore, WATCH director, said the students' input was essential "to try to determine some things that maybe we can do in the future, ways to improve the community for youth here."

Ms. Floyd threw out several questions on what they viewed as problem areas and possible solutions.

Students rattled off a list of typical concerns -- gang violence, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school.

"A lot, especially young men, get into gangs, see that as an alternative," said Ronesh Newkirk, a junior at GHS. "Females get into drugs, sex, alcohol."

Teen pregnancy is another issue, resulting in their peers having to juggle child care and a job to support themselves.

"I have seen a lot of students, some from our school, some from other schools, (dropping out)," added Martinique Thomas, also a junior. "You're still young. You're not supposed to be out making a living."

Youths become involved in drugs, sex, alcohol, even gangs, for a variety of reasons, the teens said -- boredom, lack of parental involvement or hope for the future, to name a few.

"They want to have definite rules and boundaries, that structure," Ms. Floyd said, then asked the youths, "Do you feel that the community works toward solving or addressing the concerns?

"We hear them talk about it but we don't see them doing anything," Ronesh said.

Sudie Davis, director of Communities and Schools and chairwoman of the Teen Pregnancy Task Force, said, "Sometimes we're not good about getting the message back to you young people."

Mrs. Davis said several grants are in the works, particularly in drug and gang prevention.

When it comes down to tangible efforts involving teens in Goldsboro and Wayne County, though, it was the glaring lack of alternatives that sparked the most debate.

"It goes all the way back to after school activities," said Timothy Richardson, a senior. "I think (teens) would be interested in having a lounge, something after school, things that would keep them off the street."

"Maybe a place similar to the Boys and Girls Club, but not exactly because we have outgrown that," Martinique added, suggesting the center could offer such things as tutoring, a health center, a place to play basketball or softball.

Ronesh recalled hearing her parents speak about their days at Goldsboro High School, when there was a teen center at nearby Dillard Middle School.

"They had activities. Back then you didn't hear about kids in the streets, smoking and selling drugs," she said.

Martinique is a cheerleader at GHS, while her younger brother and sister are involved in other activities. But not everyone is as fortunate, she said, or can afford to participate.

"That probably leads to after school, not having anything to do and getting in trouble," she said.

The notion of a teen activity center is not a new one, Mrs. Davis said.

"I work with the Junior Leadership and eight out of the nine years, a teen center has been identified as a need in the community," she said.

"I can imagine how they feel. I'm young, and there's nothing here for me to do," Ms. Floyd said.

Glenda White of the Goldsboro Housing Authority, and a grandmother, chimed in, "Excuse me. There's nothing for me to do!"

Rovonda Freeman, minority health coordinator at the Health Department, said the youth center already operating on base has had a lot of success with activities, events and trips offered throughout the year.

She expressed appreciation to the student group for their input, saying, "It gives validity to what we think we know. I really do hope we get something in the works ... (They) tried to get something downtown and that was shut down real quick."

Recent efforts by another group of teens vocalizing a similar request before the city council fell by the wayside, Mrs. Davis speculated, "because they didn't have adults with them. I think they got shut down because they didn't have an adult saying, 'We need that, look at this before you go any further.'"

It is still something area youths could benefit from, the group said. And hopefully one day, it will become a reality.

When it does, one student said, it needs to be very specifically targeted toward that age group.

"Make sure it's a teen center," Ronesh said, recalling earlier efforts that were attempted when she was in middle school, when some older youths were also allowed to participate.

"It has to be a teen center where we don't have people that are over 18 there with us because if you have a lot of young girls and then older boys, you know, that can bring trouble."