Project Change stands up to bullies
March 1, 2005
Audrey F. Partington
Gazette Youth Press




With a grant of $550 from Youth Service America and Youth Venture, Project Change, an Olney-area youth group, will launch a project to reduce bullying and other types of violence in the schools.

Titled "You Have the Power," the initiative will raise awareness of the problem and enlist the participation of high school students to serve as mentors to students at the elementary and middle school level.

"Too often, people just don't take bullying seriously," said Sarika Tamaskar, Sherwood High School junior and student co-president of Project Change. "Studies show that hundreds of thousands of youth may stay home from school on any given day because they fear being bullied. Youth who bully are also more likely to skip school, drop out, smoke, drink alcohol and get into fights."

Tamaskar, along with Project Change student officers Molly Hines, Jeremy Lent, Fabio Fernandes and Adam Glass, applied for the grant to become YSA Youth Venturers, with guidance from Stephanie Bryn, one of the founders of Project Change, who continues to serve as an adult adviser to the group. Bryn is a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service who focuses on injury and violence prevention programs.

The Youth Venture Bullying Prevention team is planning its strategy for implementing the anti-bullying campaign. Preliminary plans include meeting with school principals and staff to introduce the project and developing public service announcements and skits featuring middle and elementary school students. The team also plans to engage in fundraising activities to provide any additional monies that are needed.

"We plan to recruit a diverse group of young people, including children with disabilities who are often victims of bullying," Hines said.

The team has received the support of Dr. Renee Brimfield, assistant principal of Sherwood High School, who has been attending the team's weekly planning meetings.

The official launch of "You Have the Power" will coincide with National Youth Service Day on April 15. The Youth Venture team and other participants will introduce the program through a series of skits to be performed at assemblies in several area schools.

Founded in 1998 by Olney-area high school students, Project Change is a teen-led, adult-supported group committed to improving the health and safety of youth in the community. For more information, visit the group's Web site at www.projectchange.info.

Youth Service America (www.ysa.org) is a resource center that partners with other organizations to create volunteer opportunities for young people who wish to serve locally, nationally and globally.

Youth Venture (www.youthventure.org) is a national nonprofit organization that helps young people (ages 12-20) launch clubs, organizations or initiatives that improve their communities.

Audrey Partington is an adult coordinator for Project Change.