Teens learn through community service

Local teen action groups benefit community, teens.

EAST BREMERTON — Cody Brown of Bremerton’s idea of a good time is a bit different than the average teenager. The 15-year-old likes to hang out with friends and make his community a better place to live. The teen is an active member of one of five teen action groups throughout Kitsap County in which the teenagers, overseen by adult role models, learn positive values and put those values into practice.

In Brown’s case, he attends a teen action group at the Kitsap Family YMCA in East Bremerton. He’s been involved for about a year.

In that year, Brown’s favorite project by far was the Paint the Bowl in Silverdale, in which all five groups came together and painted over the graffiti in the Silverdale Rotary Gateway Park.

Students performing public service create a symbiotic relationship on which both student and community thrive.

The students have fun improving their community and practicing leadership skills, while benefiting from the relationship with adults who act as role models.

The Kitsap Family YMCA’s teen action group is an extension of its youth programming, such as its ever-popular Splash and Jam on the third Saturday of the month. At these programs, teenagers are given positive activities supervised by adult role models.

“Adult involvement with youth is very important,” said Jim Pond, Director of Youth Development for the Kitsap Family YMCA.

It’s the adult involvement that can make a difference.

“The whole mission of the teen action program is to teach youth that it is important to be involved in the community through community service,” Pond said.

Each teen action group is affiliated with a well-established entity in the county: The Kitsap Family YMCA, Kitsap Youth For Christ’s Independent Living Skills program, 4H and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The groups meet weekly or monthly, then come together once a quarter for group activities.

The teen action groups are overseen by the Kitsap County Commission on Children and Youth, which receives funds from the Family Policy Council for each group to operate, said Gay Neal, coordinator of the Commission on Children and Youth.

The commission focuses on four main issues regarding young people in Kitsap: reducing youth violence, intervening in youth drug use, decreasing the high school drop out rate, and reducing/preventing child abuse and neglect.

“One of the strategies in reducing problem behavior is putting the emphasis on youth leadership,” Neal said. Research has shown youths who are involved in positive activities and taught leadership skills are less likely to be involved in drug and alcohol use.

Another perk, Neal added, is better academic performance by those students involved in community activities or who have received leadership training.

The formula, too, is academic.

“The more assets the kids have, the more likely they are to be successful in school and as they grow into adulthood,” Neal said.

Teen volunteer Brown isn’t so sure about all the long-term benefits; he just wants to be active in the community.

“It’s a way for me to give back to my local community and do my share to help out,” Brown said.

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