21 Days of Learning Guide Students to New Dreams, Goals; A Leadership Opportunity in Atlanta Lets Six Seniors Reflect, Grow and Give

By Kerr, Jessie-Lynne | The Florida Times Union, August 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

21 Days of Learning Guide Students to New Dreams, Goals; A Leadership Opportunity in Atlanta Lets Six Seniors Reflect, Grow and Give


Kerr, Jessie-Lynne, The Florida Times Union


Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

Six Jacksonville high school seniors spent three weeks away from home forming a community with 37 other high school seniors - all strangers from different cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles and perspectives.

When it was time to come home, they were shocked at how close they had become.

The six are Latavious Smith, 17, of Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology; Shatona Pickett, 17, of Lighthouse Christian Academy; Ylonda Maynard and Brianna Williams, both 17 and attending Raines High School; Chemir Stephens, 17, of Forrest High School; and Johnathan Horton, 17, of Wolfson High School.

The six, all active in programs of The Bridge of Northeast Florida, an agency that provides comprehensive educational, social and health programs to youth, spent three weeks in Atlanta at the Youth Theological Institute at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Their challenge was to get experience in leadership development and explore how they can make the world a better place.

They attended group sessions where they shared their hopes and fears about their faiths and visited houses of worship of various faiths. They also did some community service work at shelters and facilities that help the homeless, immigrants and other needy.

"We learned we can make a difference and have an impact on society," said Maynard. "I learned I can change the ordinary world by doing extraordinary things."

While she once thought she would like to become a doctor, she said her experience at the institute "gave me a purpose and a passion for counseling families and children and I'd like to open a group home for foster children."

She learned to conquer her fears and trust in God, she added, and that by overcoming her fears, she can help her community.

Smith agreed. "We confronted our demons and once we defeated them, we knew we could defeat any problems ahead," he said.

A culinary arts student who one day wants to own his own restaurant, Smith was particularly impressed with Cafe 458, a restaurant for the homeless.

"Man, that was nice," he said. "It's not a food line but a restaurant where the homeless come in and sit down and volunteers wait on them and the food was so good."

The cafe is supported by being open to the paying public on weekends, he added. "I'd like to start my own version of the cafe here in Jacksonville. I want to give dignity and pride back to the homeless. …

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