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Program prompts students to give back during spring break

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Some high school students might spend spring break with family members at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Others may spend it with friends at other places in Florida, such as Destin, Daytona Beach, Pensacola or Panama City Beach.

Twenty-eight Stockbridge High School students, however, will spend their break competing against each other to see who can do the most to help other people in their hometown.

The participants will spend spring break using $50 in cash, a disposable camera and a poster board to help other people in their community. The students are part of the Youth Empowerment, Inc., program, which is based at the high school. The program is not to be confused with the Riverdale-based Youth Empowerment Project, Inc.

The competition is called the "Big Give Spring Break Challenge."

"This is for the kids who aren't going anywhere for spring break," said Angela Lewis, program director for Youth Empowerment, Inc. "We're trying to say to these kids, 'You know, rather than sitting around all week and goofing off, at least spend some of your time by helping to make your community better.'"

While the project shares a name and concept with the Oprah Winfrey television show "Big Give," Lewis said she came up with the concept after the response she got last year to her own personal 'big give'-type experience. Every year, the Youth Empowerment program director takes a portion of her tax refund and gives it to someone who needs financial assistance, but isn't expecting help.

Last year, she gave $80 to a friend who struggles to afford monthly medication for her ailing mother. The money was enough to buy a two-month supply of medication.

Lewis' friend left a message on her answering machine afterward, thanking her for the money. The message made Lewis feel good about what she had done, and she still has the message as a reminder how much other people appreciate random acts of kindness.

It's a feeling she wants participants in the "Big Give Spring Break Challenge" to experience as well.

Some of the suggested ways of helping others, include cleaning up and/or repainting the garage of an elderly person, or planting new flowers near the entrance to a neighborhood in an effort to beautify the area.

The students who take part in the effort will give four-minute presentations on their activities during Youth Empowerment, Inc.'s April 15 meeting.

Four judges will review each presentation and decide which students gave the most back to their communities. The top three will receive monetary prizes, although Lewis said the amount of the prizes will depend on how many sponsors she can get for the competition.

Allan Vigil Ford, Paragon Security Systems, Georgia Power Co., and Walgreens have already signed on to support the event.

"Beyond the money, the biggest thing about this competition is the good feeling of knowing [the participants] helped other people," Lewis said. "You can't put a monetary value on how good it feels to help somebody else ... Maybe, the young people will realize you don't need to wait until you have $1 billion to help someone."

Youth Empowerment, Inc., aims to build leadership traits in high school students. Although the program is only offered at Stockbridge High School at this time, Lewis said the goal is to eventually expand into other high schools in both Clayton and Henry counties.

For more information about Youth Empowerment, Inc., contact Lewis at (404) 993-1841.