August 17, 2015
By Laura J. Mondul for the Herald Courier (Source) BRISTOL, Va. — What started as a volunteer internship for two Bristol Tennessee High School students has become a community-wide campaign to battle bullying.
Sakota Blevins and Taylor Blevins are high school friends who decided they wanted to volunteer this summer. Sakota’s father, a probation officer in the Rice Terrace complex of Bristol, Virginia, suggested the girls go to the Crisis Center, down the road from his office.
“We were really excited when these ladies walked in,” said Emily Anne Thompson, suicide prevention coordinator at the Crisis Center. “When I originally started training them, I asked them to find a topic that is near and dear to them to become their project.”
Both girls felt that bullying was a concern among youth and chose to make their project about bullying awareness. Bullying can cause anything from depression to withdrawal to suicide, and therefore fits right in with the mission at the Crisis Center.
“Unfortunately, bullying happens,” said Thompson. “Bullying happens as adults, too, but it’s called abuse. So whether it’s elder abuse or whatever, I think it’s great that they’ve chosen that topic.”
Taylor says she has seen the results of bullying first-hand — a close friend of hers opted to attend online school rather than go to public schools because she was bullied by her peers.
“Bullying has always been around,” said Sakota. “It’s in every school and there is never really anything done about it. So I thought we could do an event to raise awareness.”
As part of their awareness campaign, Taylor and Sakota have planned a public screening of the documentary “Bully” at Cumberland Square Park in Bristol, Virginia, on Sept. 12.
The girls did all the footwork to create the event — they had to write a proposal for their project, explaining how they were going to develop and fund it, and present it to the executive director and then to the Board of Directors.
“The girls have done a wonderful job developing their Bullying Awareness Program,” said Crisis Center Executive Director Stephanie Poe. “I’m really pleased we can be a part of the launch of this program. The more awareness we can raise among young people, the more change we can effect.”
Sakota and Taylor also represent the Youth Advisory Council at the Crisis Center. Their role is to provide a link to the youth in the community to help the center keep abreast of the current issues facing young people.
And the girls’ service also extends to other events in the community. They will volunteer at the community event “Cumberplunge,” a 500-foot-long water slide that will take over Cumberland Street on Aug. 29 in Bristol, Virginia.
Both young ladies plan to continue serving on the Youth Advisory Council and volunteer at the Crisis Center until they leave for college. Sakota says she would like to major in either psychiatry or political science. Taylor, an avid reader, wants to major in literature and someday be a literature professor.
Taylor, who tends to be the quieter of the two girls, said the work with the Crisis Center has helped her personally as well. She and Sakota both participate in the “Just Checking” program, in which they make some of the 50-plus phone calls a day to at-risk people in the community.
“I’m slowly but surely getting up there with being able to talk to people,” Taylor said. “Working here has really helped.”
Furthermore, the girls like that they are gaining office experience, which they feel is helping prepare them for life after high school.
As an important part of the suicide prevention cycle, Crisis Center workers hope the girls’ bullying program will catch on. Long-term program goals include taking it on the road and making presentations in high schools throughout the region.
“Sakota and Taylor are a credit to their generation, and I hope it will inspire other young folks to get involved,” said Poe. “Kindness matters. It doesn’t take as much as you think to make a big difference, and I am proud that they are on our team.”