Loudoun County is celebrating its youth this week with the new "Teen Machine" providing free bus transportation to a variety of special events for middle- and high-school students.
The event's organizer, the Youth Initiative, has been a driving force to steer the area's young people away from alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, violence and gangs.
Business and youth leaders from across the county began the initiative a year ago June 4. They spent last summer and fall surveying middle- and high-school students to determine their needs. Delbert White, a member of the Advisory Commission on Youth, suggested launching a week of activities. "We want kids to know we were listening. They wanted things to do and ways to get there," he said. "We are going to support them and make things happen."
The All Star Battle of the Bands, a "StompFest" competition, a dialogue on culture and cliques, a reception, and teen library activities are planned. Taking his cue from his own Native American culture, White said an intergenerational dinner party also will be held at Dominion High School to connect "young at heart" senior citizens with young people.
WHITE CREDITED Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) with starting and keeping the Youth Initiative momentum alive. Snow named more than a dozen of the project's "spark plugs," including White and Carol Kost. As chairwoman of the county Youth Advisory Commission, Kost has been named Loudoun's 2005 Volunteer of the Year for her efforts in this endeavor.
White and Snow each said there was a personal incident in their lives that ignited their commitment to youth.
White said the 1999 Columbine High School killings of 12 students and one teacher in 1999, carried out by two seniors, was life changing for him. "We've been fortunate not to have a Columbine," he said. "I saw the faces on those parents. I don't want to go to any funerals where we are burying young people or we're burying teachers or we have 200 to 300 kids in therapy because of a shoot-out."
Snow said his military life made the difference. "When military families move, it's a significant emotional event," he said. "What the military does, when you arrive a new station, it embraces you with a safety net. You are brought immediately into the social environment. It makes any transition almost seamless."
He would like to adopt that format to help the students who are moving from school to school, because of the county's rising growth. Redistricting is required every time a new school is built.
"How can we soften that move? How can we create a safety net? The pressures of change and growth, how can we stabilize that and create a seamless support web for all of our adolescents?"
Snow said the solution lies with new teen centers, mentors, and building relationships.
THE ADVISORY Commission on Youth, established about a decade ago, serves as an advisory board on young people's issues to the Board of Supervisors. The Loudoun Youth Initiative works to provide the activities and transportation needs of Loudoun's teenagers. Loudoun Youth Inc. is a newly formed nonprofit organization that serves as a fund raising and coordinating focal point for the private sector's involvement in the youth's initiatives.
Last year's survey of middle- and high-school students showed a need for teen centers. Janet Clark, chairwoman of the Community Organization for Prevention Education (COPE), spearheaded establishment of the Purcellville Skating Rink, which dedicates Friday nights to western Loudoun teens. The Sterling Community Center has established a teen center in the eastern part of the county. Plans are underway to open another one in Sugarland Run.
White has been working with the Eastern Loudoun Regional Library in Cascades to hold an after-hours teen center on Friday nights, with every other week devoted to middle-school youth and the intervening Fridays to high-school students. The program, scheduled from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., begins June 17 for grades six through eight, and June 24 for high-school students. All of the county's libraries are currently closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
THE TEEN MACHINE youth transportation program is a partnership between the Loudoun Youth Initiative, the Advisory Commission on Youth and the Virginia Regional Transportation Association. It has begun to provide bus rides for teenagers to county teen activity centers, recreational and sports facilities, retail and commercial centers where teens are employed or shop, and youth-oriented recreational, cultural and social events in the region.
Snow said the purpose is to provide mobility for teens without getting them into cars and possible crashes.
Kost attributed the Youth Initiative's success to the community's commitment to the project. "It also helps that several of the … supervisors, particularly Steve Snow, envisioned something more for our county's youth," she said.
The Board of Supervisors has backed the county's teens by appropriating $200,000 for the Teen Machine and $245,000 for a director, a specialist and operations for the office of Loudoun Youth Inc. The seed money for the transportation program, however, is not enough, White said. He has called on the Loudoun County Chamber to get behind the Teen Machine to help teenagers get to activities and jobs. "Young people on the move spend money and are able to provide important labor resources to businesses traditionally members of Chambers of Commerce throughout the United States," he said.
White said the goal is to make the Initiative "youth-driven," so the teens take over the leadership. He said Scott York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, keeps saying he is looking forward to the day when there are young people at the board meetings pushing their objectives.
Snow agreed. "We really are serious about getting the teens to participate and drive the program," he said.
AMONG THE ACTIVITIES planned for the week is a Youth Night Open House at all branch libraries from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. Loudoun's youth will have an opportunity to munch on pizza while learning about the programs specifically geared for teens.
Six bands will compete Friday night for prizes and the opportunity to be the warm-up band for Little Feat at the Loudoun Summer Music Fest. Each high school will hand out 80 free tickets, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Step Teams will compete at the "StompFest" and youth dance at the Round Hill Center. White said it is his hope that the intergenerational dinners will be held monthly. In his culture, grandfathers passed along traditions and knowledge to their grandsons and the similar was true for the grandmothers and their granddaughters.
Kost said the Youth Initiative has become a movement and part of the community. Next year, it plans to create a Youth Committee as a standing committee of the Advisory Commission on Youth. "This will give students a regularly scheduled forum and voice, to which we hope an even wider community audience will be listening," she said.
"No one ever saw it a year ago, that we'd be where we are with this Youth Initiative," White said. "Now comes the real hard work, the second year, keeping the momentum."
Schedule of Events
Tuesday, May 31: Youth representatives and government officials reception, 6:30 p.m., Loudoun County Government Center.
Wednesday, June 1: Intergenerational Dinner Party, 7 p.m., Dominion High School.
Wednesday, June 1: Culture and Cliques — a Youth Dialogue, 6 p.m., Rust Library.
Thursday, June 2: Youth Night Open House, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., all library branches.
Friday, June 3: Loudoun All Star Battle of the Bands, 6 p.m., Stone Bridge High School.
Saturday, June 4: Loudoun Invitational 'StompFest' Competition and dance, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Round Hill Center.
Visit www.loudoun.gov/youth or call 703-771-5511.
What Is It?
The Youth Initiative, comprised of government, business, faith-based, educational, community and youth representatives, coordinates the county's resources to address:
* Recreational and social activities.
* The changes resulting from Loudoun's escalating growth and changing demographics.
* Public transportation oriented to the diverse needs of youth aged 13-18.
* The abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
* Bullying and peer group intimidation, including gang activity and violence.