Last week I was privileged to meet an extraordinary group of students at Ayer/Shirley Middle School.
These eighth grade students participated in the United Way Youth Ventures program. Youth Ventures help area schools integrate youth-based social ventures into their curriculum, after school activities and special events. More than a dozen schools in the region participate, with others expressing interest in starting a program.
From the Youth ventures website :
“Young people are our future. You may have heard it a million times, but often as a society we do not look to them for solutions as we should. Youth are a valuable resource of inspiration, talent, knowledge and energy; and they do truly hold the future in their hands. Shouldn’t we then be investing more in them, and listening more to them? Young people are a vibrant—yet largely overlooked and underutilized— source of power of capacity for creating and leading positive community change. Young people involved in United Way Youth Venture develop leadership skills, build confidence, provide countless services to their communities, and most importantly, are given the chance to make lasting positive change on others, as well as themselves. At the same time they learn how to confront problems, face them, and find creative solutions.”
This group of students called themselves “Blue Crew 2”, after a Youth Ventures initiative started by students who are now in high school. They chose HMEA’s Autism Resource Central to be the beneficiary of the funds they raised in their project.
In order to participate students must create a plan , then present it to a board at Mount Wachusett College and be selected to be funded with seed money to execute their fundraising plan. Blue Crew 2’s mission was two -fold. To raise awareness and acceptance of autism spectrum disorders in their school and to raise money to support the mission of HMEA’s Autism Resource Central.
They encouraged the student body to mark World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd by wearing blue, and sold blue lightbulbs so that the community could also “Light It Up Blue” . They also ran a dance in April with a blue theme and held a bake sale in April. Their efforts were a huge success and they raised $1,000.00. They held $300 seed money back to continue with Blue Crew 2 in High School next year and presented the Center with a check for $700.00. Pretty impressive for a group of youngsters! Teacher Barbara Dyer serves as advisor to all Youth Venture Groups, I also met other students who were championing different causes dear to them.
What struck me was the motivations of the Blue Crew 2 members. Vanessa Delk is a familiar face to some of you. She is an alumnus of our Sibshops, and lives daily with the challenges of having a sibling on the spectrum. Nick Lurado, is the younger brother of a member of the original Blue Crew , whose best friend was a sibling as well and a member of the 1st Blue Crew. He simply wanted to keep the initiative alive at the middle school, having seen what a difference his sister’s involvement made. Cassidy Wenstrom,another member, is Vanessa’s best friend of . Kyli Schwatrz explained that her best friend’s younger sister is severely impacted by ASD and that was her motivation to become involved as well. Friends and Family can make a difference. These students certainly have and we are more than thankful for their support .