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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Students see ‘highlights’ at party
Youngsters express feelings about drugs, bullying
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Courtesy Photo: Students could write messages on their shirts related to being “above” the influence of peers when it comes to alcohol, drugs and bullying at the “highlighter party.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

A "highlighter party" may spark a puzzled look on the faces of many.

After all, it doesn't sound exciting.

But for about 280 students, the party, held recently at the YMCA Essig Center, was a big hit.

Students received a white t-shirt and a highlighter when they arrived and were allowed to sign each other's shirts, said Regina Clark, a community organizer with Piedmont Community Services. 

The written messages or names showed up best under black lights that were located in the "black box" room, where a DJ provided music and dancing. 

Alternative options for students were available in the gym, where they received pizza, cookies and popcorn, played cornhole with their friends, rode a mechanical bull, answered drug related trivia questions for prizes, or decorated a sign describing how they're above the influence of drugs, alcohol, peer pressure and bullying.

"It's all about providing a drug-free alternative event for students to enjoy," said Clark.

The idea for the event began last summer when members of the local CHILL (Communities Helping Improve Local Lives) youth organization attended a youth leadership conference, sponsored by the Virginia Department of ABC, Clark said. As part of that conference, the students developed the details of the plan, created a proposal and presented it to the FRESH (Focus on Response and Education to Stay Healthy) Coalition.

One of the missions of that coalition, headed by Clark and composed of Franklin County residents of varying backgrounds and professions, is to promote a drug and alcohol-free environment for youth.

Clark said FRESH is involved with Ferrum College's Center for Community Engagement, and the center agreed to make funding available as a mini-grant for the party.

"Numerous community partners were involved in the planning and proposal, and as the project evolved, over 10 additional agencies and organizations joined the efforts with physical and financial support," Clark said. "Even students from multiple academic departments at Ferrum College became involved in the development and evolution of the project."

Clark said the party "is an example of what a small group of people can do when they come together to collaborate on a project to benefit members of the community."

"A project like this is exciting on so many levels because not only was the event a success as far as students attending, but it was also a great opportunity for youth development with our CHILL members," she said, adding that it also gave the college students an opportunity to gain experience with event planning and implementation, and energized community partners to work collaboratively on an innovative project.  

"This is an exciting time for FRESH and certainly for the CHILL members who have seen their ideas develop into fruition," she said. 

The next step of CHILL's proposal will be to take the project back to the conference this summer and show others how it was successfully implemented, Clark said.

With support and funding, FRESH and CHILL will continue to support youth in the community and provide additional opportunities for youth empowerment, she added.

Any rising ninth to 12th-grader in good standing in school is eligible to apply to be in CHILL, Clark said.

Applications are available in the offices at BFMS and the Gereau Center and at Students Services at FCHS. 

Community partners involved in the project included 7th Inning Sports, Amerigroup, Carilion, CHILL Youth Task Force, Department of Social Services, Family Preservation Services, Ferrum College Center for Community Engagement, Franklin County Parks and Rec, Franklin County Public Schools, Franklin County YMCA, FRESH Coalition, Grand Home Furnishings, McDonald's, Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Piedmont Community Services, Rocky Mount Police Department and Seay Entertainment.

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