By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetApril 22, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - "Have you ever been really super depressed for a long time and had thoughts of suicide'"
"If people in your family drink a lot, will you drink a lot'"
"What could I do about bullies who pick on me for my disabilities'"
"Is it wrong to hurt yourself on the inside to look better on the outside'"
These are just a few of the questions on the minds of local teenagers in the Chattahoochee Valley area. There to provide the answers and an honest look at living with integrity is Teen Advisors, a Columbus-based organization that uses positive peer pressure to help students make right choices.
"Peer pressure is so powerful in the life of a teenager, so rather than trying to fight against the power of peer pressure, we use it to the teens' advantage: empowering them to influence each other to make positive decisions," said Nick Cash, director for Teen Advisors.
"I could speak to sixth-graders about how to make positive choices, and I might make some difference, but if a seventh- or eighth-grader walks in and gives the exact same speech, it would have a hundred times more impact because those sixth-graders know that older kid."
Teen Advisors, including its related middle school program, Velocity, involves more than 600 students who have signed a contract pledging to abstain from drugs, alcohol and sex and to be positive role models.
These students in turn influence thousands of their peers both by leading by example and by holding classroom sessions, where they share their choices with younger students.
During the discussion-based sessions, topics addressed can include drugs, alcohol, dating, sexual abstinence, family relationships, peer pressure and self-esteem, Cash said.
At the end of each session, teens can ask questions, submitted anonymously on note cards. Recent questions have dealt with subjects ranging from deployments, academic fears and popularity to abuse, loneliness and thoughts of running away.
Members of TA and Velocity also stay plugged in with group events, including field days, boat parties, lock-ins and masquerades and more, Cash said.
"It's tons of fun," said 18-year-old Crystal Osburn, who's been a member of TA for three years.
One of the greatest benefits of the program is the sense of community. When Osburn's dad was deployed during her sophomore year, TA was there to support her. When she stood up for her morals, TA was there, too, she said.
"I already had my values. I already knew I didn't want to cheat, I didn't want to do drugs, I didn't want to drink, but it's nice knowing there are other people at my school who share the same values," she said. "You don't feel alone, and it's easier to resist the peer pressure."
SFC(R) Eric Kennedy said membership in Teen Advisors positively impacted his three children, who are now grown.
"Each of them are making decisions on character issues that we feel like were greatly influenced by their time spent with Teen Advisors in their high school years," he said. "I just see the impact Teen Advisors has had on them ... in the way they live their lives today."
Knowing that his kids were with friends he trusted made it easier on him and his wife as parents, Kennedy said.
"They had a community of fellow Teen Advisors that just really helped them stay in areas that are positive and avoid areas that are negative," he said. "If you have that positive influence all through your high school years and even now in the middle school years, it's just tremendous."
Faith Middle School gets on board with Velocity
Eighteen area high schools and middle schools are represented with the Teen Advisors and Velocity programs. This week, Faith Middle School officially joined the group as 16 seventh-graders signed the Velocity contract Monday.
"We are super excited to start the Velocity program at Faith Middle School," said Nick Cash, executive director for TA. "We've had numerous military kids involved through the years in our high school program, Teen Advisors, and we're just thrilled and honored to now be able to serve our military families on post in this meaningful way."
The students will pioneer the program at Faith during the rest of the school year, leading classroom sessions, participating in Velocity events and living out this year's theme to "shine like stars." Next year, the program will be open to all seventh- and eighth-graders.
"I like three things about the program: individual commitments, peer mentoring (and) accountability," said Morris Poston, the school's counselor, who coordinated and promoted Velocity at Faith. "Students pledge to lead healthy, drug- and tobacco-free, honorable lifestyles. They learn to be examples to younger students, and they also present lessons to them in their classrooms."
For the rest of this school year, seventh-graders involved in Velocity will go into sixth-grade classrooms and talk about subjects like self-worth, character, integrity, building friendships and families, Poston said.
"It is a very strong program, and I think that many good things will come from it," he said.
"The reason why I want to do this is because it's very positive," said 14-year-old Yesenia Galvez, who joined Velocity Monday. "(Younger students) look up to kids who are leaders, and a lot of times they see negative influences. I would like to be there and help them and lead them the right way."
Sometimes people think doing the right thing isn't cool or fun, Yesenia said, but it can be both "as long as you have a good attitude."
"You have a clear mind. You're not going the route with a reputation of negativity," she said. "You feel good when you do good things, whether someone's looking or not," she said.
Sixth- and seventh-grade students who want to enroll next year can sign up at Faith or online by visiting www.teenadvisors.org.