LaGRANGE — Gangs, teen dating violence, teen pregnancy and substance abuse are just some of the issues children and teenagers deal with on a daily basis in today’s society.
Those problems manifest themselves in schools, churches, outreach programs and neighborhoods, and touch just about every facet of a community.
It is a big reason why the Troup County Prevention Coalition and Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services organized their second annual Prevent Event on Tuesday at LaGrange College.
The event provided a day’s worth of training in a variety of key areas to counselors, educators, physicians and more throughout the state of Georgia.
“It’s hard to get affordable training close to you, or it’s hard to find,” explained Shannon Lawson, coordinator at the Troup County Prevention Coalition. “We did a consolidated training and it’s free to all the people, which is important to all nonprofits who work on a budget. We also offered it to community organizations and churches.”
Lawson said close to 100 people attended the event from places like Atlanta, Warner Robins, Cedartown and beyond.
This year’s guest speakers included: Marc Fomby, CEO of FTC Prevention Services, who spoke on gang trends, Tomeika Daniel, who discussed teen dating violence and substance abuse, plus Dr. Karen Kuehn-Howell from Emory University, who talked about maternity healthy and substance abuse.
Lawson said they brought in experts who could discuss hot topics around the country and tailor their program to local communities.
“The speakers gave participants a lot of insight, awareness and trends of what people are seeing in their neighborhoods,” she explained.
Carmen Caldwell is a project director for the Middle Georgia Alcohol Abuse Prevention Initiative and a youth pastor at a church in Griffin.
This was her first time attending the Prevent Event.
She said she works with 30-40 kids, ranging from elementary school age to high school teenagers in her church. Plus Caldwell runs a focus group filled with 30 students from schools in three different counties who find ways to prevent underage drinking.
She said the topics of teen dating violence and gangs come up regularly among her students and in her community.
“I want more knowledge, to be a resource and able to help if someone wants to get out of a bad situation or needs me to help them,” Caldwell explained.
“I think it’s important for adults to be approachable, a moral compass and engaged in their students,” she continued. “Even if it appears their message is not being heard — never give up.”
Many folks who attended the training sessions said they networked with other professionals in their fields, and exchanged ideas plus contact information.
“I have more tools and more contacts. The networking was good here,” Caldwell said. “I have more information and I have more confidence in myself and in my abilities at my work and at being a youth pastor.”
This year, the prevention coalition also brought in two motivational speakers: Yvonne Harvey Williams and John Bringuel.
Lawson said the group thought it was important to feed the participant’s minds and their souls.
“We had them here for inspiration,” Lawson explained. “A lot of times, people who work in prevention or with teens feel overwhelmed or that their program is not making a difference. She (Yvonne) made us feel like we made a difference.”
Prevention coalition member, Sheri Cody agreed. “Something she kept going back to was saying, ‘You are somebody’s hope.’”
Lawson said the prevention coalition is already planning to hold a third Prevent Event next year.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. She mqy be reached 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.