Menu Close

Sussex Teens Receive Grant From Presbytery SDOP Committee

Originally published in the 2024 SDOP Sunday Resource and Yearbook, page 14

Teens from Sussex County, Virginia, are excited to have a chance to work with the Presbytery of the James Self-Development of People (SDOP) Committee to help youth in their community gain leadership skills and increase their civic engagement. The SDOP committee awarded the group a grant of $7,000 to fund their activities.

The youth are participants in Empowering Young Leaders (EYL), a program developed by United to Empower. United to Empower is a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 to serve individuals 18 years old and younger who reside in underserved, rural communities in Southeastern Virginia.

EYL seeks to educate, enhance, and empower the lives of youth and to help them to become leaders in the communities that they live in. Youth are given opportunities to be “their own voice” — responsible for being their own advocates, offering their perspective to identified needs, and then helping to create solutions to problems. Youth become decision makers who are resources instead of mere recipients of services.

William Bowers, a high school senior the president of EYL, shared how the group will use the SDOP grant: “The main thing is hold community events. Community events would help boost the community’s morale with fun for every age group and would educate people on better living and how to achieve it.”

“We also plan to clean up areas to restore pride, read to youth, and more. All of these ideas will only be brought to life with the help of the SDOP funds. Holistically, I envision creativity, ambition, dependability, and many positive traits to be exemplified from myself and my fellow EYL members.”

High school junior Jakaiya Scott says, “We EYL youth are strong, smart and powerful!” She said she would really like to see more programs to help youth with mental illness and with job training.

EYL member Ceniya Clarke shares that the project activities already have given her more confidence in expressing her opinions. She believes kids can make a difference because “we are the future and often have a better understanding of some of the issues in the community (because they deal directly with us).”

The EYL students already have played a major role in helping their high school to coordinate their first student-led Drug Prevention Awareness Week activity in support of the national Red Ribbon Week held in October.

The students provided educational information to their peers on the negative impact drugs and alcohol can have in hopes to deter future usage. The week concluded with a carnival event to engage the entire high school in alternative activities to do instead of drugs. The event was a success and showed the EYL that they can positively impact their peers when they work together and have a strategic plan.

To sustain their activities for the future, EYL seeks to build partnerships with other community groups in order to host activities during after school and weekend hours at locations easily accessible to families who may have transportation issues.

EYL students are looking forward to learning from their core group of mentors to include UTE and the SDOP volunteers who have pledged to assist as speakers and facilitators for activities.