CIRCLEVILLE — Students from all four county public schools gathered inside Heritage Hall for a Be the Change Youth Rally on Friday at the Pickaway County Ag & Event Center.
Pickaway Addiction Action Coalition sponsored the rally, which promoted positive and healthy choices.
Students heard from Ty Sells, from Youth 2 Youth International. In between sessions, they were given lunch and an opportunity to play several different games and physical challenges.
Maggie Simmons, program director and event organizer, said the event was funded through a federal grant that PAAC received recently and they plan to make it a regular thing.
“Our hope is to raise awareness to substance misuse in our youth and build skills and create an environment where a majority of youth don’t use and abuse substances,” Simmons said. “Our goal is to create a space for youth to feel empowered to say something, speak up and make the right decisions.”
Simmons said if each student had one takeaway, it would be is that they have a voice.
“It’s a very powerful voice, and sometimes they may not feel like they have one, but they do,” she said. “If you have a thought and an opinion, you are more powerful and more brave than you think you actually are.”
Simmons shared that PAAC received the drug-free communities grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is aimed at creating policy change and community partnerships.
“A big part of it is trying to establish a youth coalition so our hope is that with all four schools being here we can unite them to create a cohesive idea for the community that is youth driven,” she said. “There’s a huge push as part of the grant to have events like this.”
Simmons said learning in a classroom in a more academic setting is good but having the students be hands on can be even better.
“You can teach and teach and teach but if you’re not hands on and experiencing something fun and memorable, sometimes the education doesn’t stick,” she said. “Education is a great tool but you have to supplement where you can and create an environment that is fun and safe for everyone.”
Simmons said the schools were a great partner on the event.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome,” she said. “It seems like there’s a push, COVID exacerbated mental health issues and substance abuse in schools, so having this event a lot of the schools are very much on board. I think that the fact all four schools are here with the amount of students is a really good sign that there’s a lot of energy behind this to fight it.”
Simmons said as a community, building a better tomorrow and starts with the youth.
“Empower them and listen to them because they have stories that you or I might not think about and they may have input that we might not think about,” she said. “Listening to what they have to say is a huge help to our community and will only make us stronger.”