Youth coalition for high school students is being formed

Published 7:06 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A faith-based, non-denominational youth coalition for high school students is being formed in partnership with the Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) and The Hope Network, through their network of congregations and youth groups.

Amanda DeWitt is spearheading the group as a community project while she’s working in a supervised year of ministry at First Christian Church in Danville, part of earning her master’s of divinity from Phillips University. She also works at Centre College as a sustained community dialogues and VISTA member.

DeWitt said as she was searching for a meaningful community service project, Kathy Miles, coordinator of the local Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) suggested that a group for teenagers needed to be organized.

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“She saw there needs to be young people who have education and resources to share accurate information with their peers,” DeWitt said.

Teens are more likely to listen to their peers concerning social issues, much more than they listen to adults, DeWitt explained.

ASAP wrote the grant for the Heart of Kentucky United Way to fund the five-week program, Miles said. “Kids need to hear the true message about drugs and vaping and not just from information they read on the internet,” Miles said. She hopes the project will “identify and train” a group of  teenagers to “build a positive peer culture for not using drugs.”

The coalition is committed to getting teens to research facts on social issues they’re interested in and that are important to the community, like substance abuse, mental health, relationships and violence. Guest speakers will also talk to the teens about specific issues they want to know more about, DeWitt said.

Then, they will be better equipped to help their peers with all kinds of issues they may be facing.

DeWitt said, “We really wanted to empower the youth to choose what they most want to talk about,” which would engage them more then they’ll have ownership of the program.

During the youth coalition’s first meeting last week, they decided to focus on the following topics for their first project:

• The normalization of sexualizing people (models, actors, etc.);

• desensitization to violence (with mass shootings and the media); and

• the stigma of mental illness and lack of open discussion around mental illness.

The teens also want to discuss how the internet and social media perpetuates each of these things, DeWitt said. Because the group’s first project is part of earning her master’s of divinity, “We will be looking at each of these topics through a lens of faith,” she said.

However, if the group develops into a sustainable organization — which she hopes is the case — the focus of future projects won’t necessarily be faith-based, she said.

The Rev. Dr. Sarah Griffith Lund, author of  “Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence on Mental Health, Family and the Church,” will be speaking tonight (Wednesday) at First Baptist Church at Second and Walnut via Facetime. There will be a discussion following her presentation.

“She’s done a lot of speaking and workshops to try to eliminate the stigma of mental illness, especially addiction,” DeWitt said.

The difficult topics of mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction aren’t something that’s talked about in churches, DeWitt said. The title of the meeting series therefore is “Difficult Conversations.”

Having a group of teens who learn from and support each other, whether they are directly affected by addiction or not is important, DeWitt said. She hopes more teens will join the group so “they can provide insight and also be supported,” DeWitt said.

Miles said if the coalition works, it will be a way to reach teenagers outside of school and be another way to hopefully prevent their use of drugs. The goal of the youth coalition, the way Miles sees it, will help educate the youth on drug addiction and what they can do to try and prevent their peers from using. Also it will give the teens information on where their friends and family members who are struggling with addiction can find help and support.

“We’re hoping this kindles some passion from the youth. This is the spark to get the fire going. … I hope it will continue.”


The youth coalition will be meeting 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. tonight at First Baptist Church Second and Walnut. A free meal will be provided at every meeting. Other meetings will be at the same time on Wednesday, April 10, 17 and 24. All high school students are welcome to participate.