OPINION

Youth Leadership

Phillip Whiteman

When I was young, I wasn’t dissimilar from other young people. I felt that my punishments were too severe, too frequent, and I thought I knew everything. Most of the enculturation covered the 80’s and most of the 1990s. I grew up in a small city in Oregon, with a population of 50,000 at that time. It was, however, the home of Oregon State University. When the school was in session, there were another 30,000 students and, as many as parents, visitors, and staff, this would increase the general population.

My point in saying all this is that I was blessed to be in a small city where I knew a lot of people, but yet I was able to experience the wide array of offerings such a large university offers: great concerts, sporting events, and the arts. Being in the Willamette Valley of Oregon exposed me to a unique world, which people call “progressive.” The city has ranked very high in education. The population with a Bachelor’s or higher was near 60%, and at last check, it still is.

As I stated above, the city was labeled “progressive.” Being progressive isn’t always the best way, and I’m just painting you an image of my world back then. I lived in my grandparents’ house, which was unique in the region. It was a house of 1700 square feet, ranch style. (Ranch-style houses are not common on the west coast.) We lived in an older neighborhood but had very close access to many grocery stores and other services. In this three-bedroom house were my grandparents, my brother, my mother, and me. I considered my grandparents strict, and some things were not allowed in the house. We didn’t watch much television, but we sat together to watch nature shows on PBS and the news. My mother worked hard to help in the house, but my grandparents had to assist financially from time to time. Why did they do this? Why did my grandparents, who retired from their 40-year-old jobs, decide to consume their retirement years by watching/supporting us? It is because they loved and cared for us no matter what. They taught me the value of hard labor. They taught me to save as they did so that someday I too might enjoy the fruits of my work.

All right, let’s get back to my point. My grandparents regularly went to church, and so did we. This led to my involvement in a group called C.E. that once was large at the national level. This group was religious-based but taught valuable life skills that I’m currently using in my role with the Newton County Community Coalition (the Coalition). C.E. created a governing council to make decisions about events and finances. Why is this so special? The board was entirely made up of youth with some adult leadership oversight. The state director would tell our board how much money we had to work with, and would give us expense reports, etc.

Although I didn’t realize it back then, it was a big deal. I was able to gain experience for something I’m still using. Being involved in this group gave me countless volunteering opportunities, such as building homes for the less fortunate, andworking with other organizations engaged in volunteering and altruism. Due to the many supporting factors, I acquired valuable life skills and gained a sense of ownership and pride. It’s something I needed and it is something we need in our youth, today.

The focus of the Coalition is youth prevention and we are looking for youth to help lead the way. We need young people to be the leaders and pioneers of example. The Coalition is not made up solely of adults; it needs young people's involvement and leadership to thrive. “Youth engagement” is a slogan, but it also represents a great movement and opportunity for Newton County. Our young people have a collective voice in the community and can play a key role in developing and implementing change at the local and state levels. By actively sharing their views with community leaders and stakeholders, young people can become part of the solution.

Newton County Community Coalition Vision: A safe and healthy, drug and alcohol-free, youth community across all of Newton County.

Newton County Community Coalition Mission: We strive to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and other risky behaviors among youth through collaboration, education, empowerment, early-intervention, and community transformation efforts throughout Newton County.

Are you interested in making a difference in Newton County? Come join the Newton County Community Coalition, where we are discussing how the Coalition provides substance abuse prevention strategies with current target areas of youth alcohol use, marijuana use, prescription drug abuse, and tobacco issues.

To get in touch with someone at the Coalition, please contact me or one of our Board members at newtoncountycoalition@gmail.com. Board President: John Ball, john@kneo.org or Board Vice President: Jeff Higgins, jhigginsatc@gmail.com

Check out our Facebook page@ https://www.facebook.com/groups/489182691248202

-Phillip Whiteman is the DFC Coordinator/Program Director for the Newton County Community Coalition (Coalition). He writes a column for The Neosho Daily News.