“Your community loves you” was the message delivered Tuesday morning to hundreds of local eighth-graders who attended the Greeneville & Greene County Youth Summit at Niswonger Performing Arts Center.
Approximately 600 students from local middle schools heard a motivational speaker, joined in a Zumba exercise session, were entertained by the Dugger Band, and even got to see Greeneville Police Chief Tim Ward dance (or try to).
Emcee for the two-hour event was State Rep. David Hawk, who told the students, “We want you to know that your community loves you. We’re here for you. We want you to succeed.”
Hawk introduced a student from each of the local high schools who gave brief remarks. Harley Davidson from Chuckey-Doak and Grace Buchanan from North Greene spoke about the importance of community involvement. Hunter Burkey from South Greene and Anna Grace Parlapiano from West Greene spoke about the importance of school involvement. Parlapiano, Miss Nashville Outstanding Teen, added the benefit of pageants to her remarks. Madison Metcalf from Greeneville High played acoustic guitar and sang “My Jesus.”
The summit was presented by the Taco Bell Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville & Greene County, and several other local organizations.
The theme, “A Path to a Great Future Starts with You,” was designed to promote good character and help students get back to the basics of treating one another with respect.
Keynote speaker was Eric Johnson, vice president of youth development at STARS Nashville.
He spoke about ways to improve the climate and culture of our schools by supporting one another and doing what’s proper instead of what’s popular.
Johnson brought six adults from the crowd on stage, including teachers, coaches, and Chief Ward. He paired them with a student to be their support as they danced in front of the crowd.
Johnson chose a song to play for each adult based on his judgment of their appearance. They included Taylor Swift, rap and hip-hop, and in Chief Ward’s case, disco.
West Greene Middle School science teacher Jan Bible demonstrated centrifugal force as she and a student square danced to “Cotton Eyed Joe.”
Following the activity, the adults agreed that having their student supporters helped them. Johnson explained, “Sometimes being brave and courageous can be contagious.”
Johnson called the activity “Song and Dance” and said participants may not like the song, but they can dance to it. Likewise, students may not like school rules, but they can abide by them.
He told the story of his daughter who was being bullied in school but found support from a student named Naomi.
Johnson encouraged the students to be like Naomi and think of ways they can make their schools better when they return in January after the holidays.
He also spoke about the importance of being your true self instead of relying on filters or hiding behind masks.
“Take off the mask and become the true authentic person that you were designed to be,” he said. “It’s about letting people know who you really are.”
He encouraged students to ask each other questions and to focus more on their similarities, not their differences.
He concluded by saying, “I ask you to do things that you are scared to do and watch your confidence grow.”
Johnson is a trainer for the STARS MOVE2STAND Leadership Training, geared to help students recognize the harmful effects of bullying and harassment.
In addition to his work as a trainer and speaker, Johnson’s experience at STARS includes both direct student assistance work in schools and program management. His training work has taken him across the country, speaking to educators, mental health professionals, administrators, communities, parent groups and student leaders.
For more information on Johnson, visit https://starsnashville.org/about/admin/ .
Debbie Mather led the students in a Zumba exercise session. Hawk explained the event included Zumba to stress the importance of taking care of our bodies and being in good physical shape.
There’s nothing quite like a bunch of eighth-grade boys trying Zumba for the first time.
Brief remarks also were made by Chris Starnes and Sarah Fillers of Taco Bell on the Asheville Highway. They explained that the event was made possible in part through funds collected as roundups at their registers.
Also speaking briefly were Lee Anne Spradlen of the Greene County Anti-Drug Coalition and Ward. The chief told students to enjoy Thanksgiving and be safe.
The Dugger Band performed original songs and covered some pop hits. The students cheered as Seth Dugger moonwalked across the stage. The band opened and closed the event, tossing goodies into the crowd as the event concluded.
In addition to Taco Bell Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club, the summit was made possible by: Greeneville City Schools, Greene County Schools, Niswonger Performing Arts Center, AmeriScrap, Central Drug Store and Gift Shop, Dr. Daniel Lewis, Gateway Ford, Gateway Nissan, Greene County Anit-Drug Coalition, Greeneville Federal Bank, Transport Technologies, and United Way of Greene County.
Scott Bullington, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville & Greene County expressed special thanks to committee members David Hawk, Cindy Heavener, LeAnn Myers, Wendy Peay, Jessica Poore, Lee Anne Spradlen, and Cindy Wilhoit, along with Vicki Hudson and the entire NPAC staff.
For more information on the Taco Bell Foundation, visit https://www.tacobellfoundation.org/ .