SOS Summit Will Provide Leadership Activities for Black Belt Youth

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2005

Some local middle school students will have an opportunity to impact their community in a very big way through the SOS – Share Our Selves – Summit, a relatively new initiative by the Culture and Youth Committee of the Black Belt Action Commission.

“We haven’t done mixed groups before,” explained Dr. Margaret Purcell, project coordinator. “We’ve done one with the girls here in Tuscaloosa County called S2S – Sister to Sister – and it went over very well.”

This new program, which is slated for July 22-23, is not only open to boys and girls who will be in grades six through eight during the 2005-2006 school year, is extended to all the Black Belt counties.

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“We’re planning for about 96 students,” Purcell said. “We’d like to have eight from each county.”

The event is designed to introduce students to the basic democratic principals of shared leadership and open communication, Purcell said. “Through a chat room format, students will be able to define the problems that they face in everyday life, and they will also be responsible for crafting solutions to the problems.”

The program is designed similar to a real-time chat room, with real students talking face to face in small groups in a somewhat informal manner.

“The students will be split into smaller groups, so when one room fills up, we’ll start another one. The students will rotate between the rooms so that each student will get a chance to talk on each topic,” Purcell said.

Each room will include an adult facilitator, but Purcell said the facilitators are simply there to keep students on topic.

“This is really student driven,” she said.

After the summit, students will be challenged to present their ideas to adult and student leaders in their communities.

The program will take place at the Bryant Conference Center on the University of Alabama campus, and will be provided lodging in a residence hall on campus.

“Students do not pay anything to participate,” Purcell stressed. “They will be provided meals, lodging in a residence hall, a t-shirt, and snacks.”

Making sure the students have a productive and enjoyable weekend is the main goal of the committee members.

“Committee members are committed to providing a caring and comfortable setting for the participants,” she said. “We want them to feel supported and safe so that they can honestly share their feelings, concerns, and ideas. If that is accomplished, they will be empowered to enact positive change.”

According to Purcell, research indicates that middle school is a time when many young people make life affecting decisions.

“By engaging students in positive, youth-centered activities, students are able to see that they can make significant contributions to their communities,” she said. She added that at this developmental period, students need to see other youth engaging in an activity.

“Peer pressure is very strong at this time in a person’s life,” Purcell said. “In order for an event to be impactful, the students need to feel valued, respected, and supported by their peers. SOS is just such an event.”

Currently committee members are recruiting student participants, adult volunteers, donors, and sponsors. Purcell said the would like to have applications in by June 24 in order to get an idea of how to prepare, but she said they will take applications after that. To get an application, find out how to help or for more information, call Purcell at (205) 348-4279.