Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2014

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Motivational speakers highlight week of inspiring messages for teens

Exhilaration would probably be the best word to describe the mood at Echoes Christian Academy this week.

Some heavy-hitting national and local speakers -- two to three each day -- were at the small academy discussing issues such as politics or sexual abstinence.

The students get credit for attracting the speakers.

Representatives from the Young Republicans visited Tuesday. Motivational speaker and entrepreneur John Jones spoke to students Wednesday about staying in school and setting goals.

And Hydeia Broadbent, who at 15 is among the nation's youngest HIV activists, also spoke Wednesday about abstaining from sex and living with HIV.

At the same time students were gearing up for their volunteer and health fair today at Doolittle Community Center. More than 200 people are expected.

All of this stemmed from concerns students listed one afternoon.

Because her best friend recently had a baby at age 17, Angelina Gutierrez, also 17, and a few friends approached a staff member to discuss what they could do to educate teens.

After a brief exchange of ideas, Rhea Watson, supervisor for the academy's junior high, said students in grades seven through 12 sat down to discuss their concerns on teen pregnancy, smoking, drug abuse, workplace violence and divorce.

"Every student was heard," Watson said.

Using the list, nine students wrote a grant proposal advocating a community health and service fair on National Youth Service Day. They called it Project FREE -- Fully Reflecting on Earth and Education.

Youth Service America, the White House Council on Drug Control Policy and the Nevada Community Foundation provided grants for the event, which will promote healthy choices and volunteerism as a deterrent to drugs.

Local nonprofit organizations will set up booths and register teens as volunteers. Food, prizes and entertainment will be offered. Local businesses have contributed generously, Watson said.

"It's been a complete community outreach. I'm just shocked," she said. "It was a simple grant. The students wrote it and said 'This is what we want.' "

The grant money also enabled the school to bring in the Baby Think It Over program, which uses dolls as simulated babies to portray the responsibilities of parenting.

The issue of teen pregnancy is real, said Gutierrez, who is concerned that her younger sister could be susceptible to peer pressure.

Students also made a donation to Reachout, a day-care center for children with HIV, in Broadbent's name.

Born with the virus, Broadbent has appeared on television shows such as "20-20" and "Good Morning America." The Las Vegas resident encouraged abstinence and emphasized the importance of befriending someone with the virus rather than turning away.

"I think a lot of kids listened," Gutierrez said. "Hydeia is on our level. She's telling the truth. This is not something to play around with. This is not a game."

Kristen Peterson covers community affairs for the Sun. She can be reached at (702) 259-2317 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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