Journey to success; Teens empowered at national summits to create positive change at local level

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Photo by Sue Suchyta
Vista Meadows Academy graduates and Washington, D.C., National 4-H Club youth summit attendees include class salutatorian D’Ontai Lewis (left), 18, of Detroit; honors graduate Alondra Alvizo, 18, of Detroit; and valedictorian Jayelo Harvey, 18, of Dearborn Heights. Lewis and Alviro attended a summit on healthy living, and Harvey attended a summit focused on keeping youth interested in science-related fields. Michigan State University sponsored the school’s 4-H Club as part of the school’s Journeys to Success program. All three will attend MSU in the fall to continue their affiliation with the 4-H Club

By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – While many teens talk about changing the world, three local students traveled to youth summits in Washington, D.C., to learn how to create positive change in their own communities.

Vista Meadows Academy seniors Jayelo Harvey, 18, of Dearborn Heights and Alondra Alvizo, 18, of Detroit, attended a National 4-H Youth Summit on healthy living, while D’Ontai Lewis, 18, of Detroit attended a 4-H Youth Summit designed to encourage more students to pursue science-related fields.

Four-H – Head, Heart, Hands and Health – is a youth development and empowerment organization for urban, suburban and rural communities engaging youth with caring adults through hands-on learning in science, healthy living and food security.

VMA is a public charter school academy for grades 9 to 12 in a small school setting that supports student achievement through after-school programs, college-readiness assessments and extensive summer opportunities for students.

Harvey, Alvizo and Lewis became active in the 4-H Club, sponsored by Michigan State University’s extension program through VMA’s Journeys to Success, an umbrella program. JTS is a community-based after-school program with a counseling component, which uses the Dreams Realized through Education and Mentoring program to offer enrichment classes, clubs and other extra-curricular activities.

VMA students, while not connected to Vista Maria in any way through public referral services (like Child Protective Services) share the JTS and DREAM programs with Vista Maria’s Clara B. Ford Academy students. CBFA provides schooling for residents of Vista Maria, where traumatized and abused children receive intensive treatment to recover and successfully transition to adulthood.

Gregory Everett, Vista Maria social worker and JTS program manager, said it is very gratifying to see students become excited about opportunities through the connections they make and the opportunities they experience through the DREAM program.

“Being able to expose them to that is the most heart-warming thing for me,” Everett said, “and just to see how appreciative they are for those opportunities.”

Adnan Khalil, JTS and DREAM mentor coordinator said 4-H teaches leadership skills and focuses on healthy living, community service and community engagement, skills which the national summits emphasize even more.

“Helping them get to that point of seeing that there are possibilities and believing in that possibility and helping them develop them is great,” Khalil said. “The things that we provide – the life lessons that they have been taught, and ways to handle or cope with situations and to know that there is a world outside of (their) ZIP code. (It) is incredible to expose them to possibilities, and then pushing them along and guiding them through it to see them become self-reliant and to instill self-responsibility in them.”

Khalil’s urging drew Lewis into the 4-H Club. Lewis said he appreciated the community service component of 4-H, which he was already doing on his own.

Lewis attended the 4-H “Challenging Youth to be the Solution” national summit in March in Washington after being chosen through a competitive application process that looked at students’ community involvement, future goals and involvement in 4-H.

He said the conference was great and he enjoyed seeing Washington.

“I got to meet new people who shared my interests,” Lewis said. “The purpose of our conference was to talk about STEM-related fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and agriculture. Our goal was to go back to each of our states and promote agriculture and STEM.”

He said he met with the Michigan representatives in the Osceola County village of Tustin since returning.

“Our goal is for each member to reach at least 100 people,” Lewis said. “And then it is supposed to have a ripple effect and it spreads and spreads.”

He said he hopes to open up the minds of the students at his school to the many career opportunities in STEM-related fields and agriculture.

“When I went to D.C., I didn’t realize how many jobs are connected to agriculture,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of things that kids in our school said they want to do, but they don’t pursue them because they don’t see the future in it. For them to say that is absolutely wrong — there is a future in every one of those careers.”

He also said he would like to see more hands-on and team-based learning in the classroom, reflecting project completion in the work world.

Lewis, along with Harvey and Alvizo, will attend MSU in the fall, and hopes to stay involved with 4-H on campus as he double majors in chemistry and physics in the Lyman Briggs College program at MSU.

LBC attempts to bridge the divide between science and the humanities by revealing science’s relationship with society, literature and philosophy. It also has smaller class sizes to allow for more student interaction with professors.

“There is opportunity in everything,” Lewis said. “Just never let it slip away. You never know what is going to happen once you go into something.”

Alvizo, who will study agribusiness management and international relations in the fall, also plans to stay involved with 4-H.

She and Harvey attended the Healthy Living Youth 4-H national summit in Washington in January.

“I thought it was a blessing to be there with such a diverse community,” Alvizo said. “There was so much going on there. We learned everything from healthy living to eating habits to how everything contributes to a healthier lifestyle.”

She said it was also a great experience because participants were encouraged to share what they learned with their own communities.

“It was definitely life changing,” Alvizo said. “I came back with the world in a different perspective.

“I have always said I wanted to change the world one hellhole at a time,” Alvizo said. “And honestly, I think that was the first step toward achieving that goal, starting out small. They taught us how to do minimal changes within our communities that eventually expand to greater opportunities.”

She has since joined Michigan’s healthy living state team, which has met three times since the national summit with other state attendees. She said their goal is to improve things in Michigan through a program called Moving Michigan, and they are creating workshops for school and communities to the spread healthy living message throughout the state.

Harvey said it was great and liberating to be with so many great minds at the summit in Washington.

“It was nice for us all to get together for a common purpose and learn and grow from each other,” Harvey said. “I didn’t want to leave. I learned a lot. I hope to take what I learned here and implement it in my own little area.”

He also is part of the healthy living state team, and credits B’Onko Sadler and Kea Norich of the MSU Extension Program for helping the team implement the action plan they started to develop at the national summit.

He plans to study biochemistry and psychology at LBC in the fall.

“I am going to do everything that I can to make sure that I stress the lessons that I learned in Washington with everyone else,” Harvey said. “I want everyone to see how important it is to be a part of agriculture, to see how important it is; how critical it is for the future that we start to change things now, because we are in a lot of trouble at the moment.”