Salem Teens are Empowered

Posted on July 9, 2012. Filed under: Volunteering is Hot! |

Check out how powerful youth and caring adult partnerships can be to genuinely empower youth as leaders of right now! Thank you for believing, Saerom! Fantastic article!

Salem Teens are Empowered
By Saerom Yoo

It’s occurred to me recently that I’ve been writing a lot about our teens.
All over Salem, there are middle and high school students who are working hard to make a difference and to do it now.

Take South Salem High School, for example. Students in Kathy August’s leadership class are raising money for Habitat for Humanity homes in Nepal. In Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, 10th−graders are collecting shoe donations for homeless, runaway and at−risk peers. At Blanchet, three girls founded a fashion show to raise money for a local day shelter for homeless and runaway youths. They have successfully organized and put it on twice, complete with corporate sponsors, DJs and Becky Ross of “Project Runway” fame.

Just one week ago, I highlighted three teens who are on the board of The Phoenix Project, a new advocacy group against bullying. And there are many more projects and stories that haven’t been told yet.

Khela Singer, director of HandsOn Mid−Willamette Valley, said the civic engagement in youths can be seen everywhere, but the adults’ willingness to allow teens to lead is unique to Salem. “I definitely think that the youth of that particular generation − they’re really passionate and have a lot of initiative and they’re fearless,” Singer said. “The pitfall they run into is that adults don’t think that.” There’s a tendency for adults to think that today’s teens are entitled, selfish and apathetic, Singer said. Nonprofit organizations could also easily feel that teen volunteers could become a liability issue.
Not in Salem, though. “They’re given the space to lead here,” Singer says.

The area’s commitment to give youths service learning opportunities could be seen last summer. HandsOn, a volunteer action agency, received a $20,000 grant to provide training and professional development led by generationOn, a youth service movement.
Salem teens are empowered Twenty−one local private and public agencies participated in the training and learned about engaging youths and families as regular volunteers, and each has committed to provide service opportunities focused on youths
and families.

The second phase of the grant funded service projects during Make Your Mark Week of Service in October. In one week, HandsOn engaged 751 AVID and leadership students from one elementary, seven middle and two high schools in field trips and Service To Go projects.

The grant paid for supplies, transportation and HandsOn staff facilitated project logistics. Basically, at a time when teachers are asked to do more with less and transportation for field trips is difficult to fund, HandsOn made it as easy as possible to provide service opportunities to students. Singer said the generationOn grant fired up both the partner agencies and youths to work together. HandsOn currently is working to free up money in its budget to continue to facilitate projects through schools.

One South Salem High School student in particular has been on my mind. Her name is Hanelle Crites. I met her while reporting a story about her and her classmates’ efforts to raise money to build Habitat homes in Nepal.

She told me she wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor. But not just anywhere. She wants to open clinics in communities in developing countries, where she thinks quality health care is needed most. And her clinics wouldn’t just provide health care. It would be the center of the community that provides many social services.
People around her have pointed out that becoming a doctor would be good way to make money. Her response? “I’d live in a hut if I can help people,” she said., (503) 399−6673 or follow at

For further discussion of social services, go to Mid−Valley Social Services blog at


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