Watch Now: Youth Summit Encourages Macon County Students – Herald & Review | Wonder Mind Kids

DECATUR — Mount Zion High School freshman Aiden Dalby has been invited to spend Friday at college.

By lunchtime he had already learned valuable life lessons.

“Team building is really important,” Aiden said. “And it’s also important to trust others with other things.”

On Friday, students from various Macon County schools gathered to participate in Sherrod’s Independent Mentoring Program, or SIMP, Youth Summit, at Millikin University.

Middle schools included Parsons, American Dreamer STEM Academy, Stephen Decatur, Robertson Charter School, and Hope Academy. High schools that participated in the event were Eisenhower, MacArthur, Mount Zion, Maroa-Forsyth and St. Teresa.

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Volunteers came from Parsons, South Shores and Sangamon Valley Schools.

SIMP President and CEO Jarmese Sherrod and her group invited the estimated 200 students and local police officers to a central location rather than meeting at the schools. “This is an opportunity for our law enforcement agencies to come in one day and empower them to speak out about some of the tough issues or things that are going on in their communities,” she said.

The sessions were designed to address issues such as addressing violence in schools, neighborhoods and other areas of the community. “Today is about being selfless leaders and giving back,” Sherrod said.

Topics include business and finance workshops, mental health and life skills programs, and advice on violence prevention from local police officers.

Games and activities were used to keep students’ attention. “We want students to go home and say, ‘I had a good time,’ ‘I love working with law enforcement,'” Sherrod said.

Yoga and meditation were part of the fun, the students said.

“It relieves stress,” Aiden said.

American Dreamer students Jaiden Binkley and Uriah Curry are still in middle school, but they’ve gotten a glimpse of what higher education might be like.

“It was fun to see what college is like,” Jaiden said.

“But I was thinking about trade school,” Uriah said. “Maybe an electrician.”

Students from Millikin University attended the summit hoping to encourage youth to continue their education. Serron Pettis and Elisha Williams IV are members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Along with Andrew Smith III, the trio introduced themselves and then performed a short dance to show the students that college isn’t just about learning.

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“The kids see that all over social media and on TV, but it’s hard to see in person,” Williams said of college experiences. “To give them the opportunity to think about it early on, you can learn about it and research it.”

The men met with the students over lunch and provided other college examples.

“It’s more than just learning and more than just sports,” said Pettis. “Knowing the balance is crucial.”

This is the second year for the Youth Summit. Sherrod and organizers evaluated last year’s event, which included law enforcement demonstrations. Participants suggested workshops and further discussion, she said.

For this year’s activities, the organizers brought vintage games to the event. Jumping rope, chess and card games were all part of the fun.

Law enforcement officials’ attendance was important to the youth summit, according to Sherrod. “Without them, our violence prevention program would not be the success we are having now,” she said. “We always tell our youth that they are the superheroes of Macon County.”

Sherrod hopes students will return to their schools to discuss the lessons they learned from the event. “Then open the opportunity and the doors for them to host violence prevention clubs or programs in their schools,” she said.

Richland Community College police chief Dean Hazen wanted to connect with the students not only to build a positive relationship but also to encourage them to consider law enforcement as a career.

“I want them to see a face and know who we are,” he said. “We want them to know they are welcome and we want them to be there.”

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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR

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