Good Cause: Neuqua grads help Charleston community
By Michelle Linn-Gust For The Sun December 28, 2012 3:54PM
Jacobs graduated from Neuqua Valley in 2009 and is a senior at Eastern majoring in family and consumer science. | Submitted
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For more information about the I Sing the Body Electric program, visit www.isbe.org
Updated: February 3, 2013 6:08AM
For many young adults who head off to college, leaving Naperville can be a culture shock when they are exposed to students of different ethnic and economic origins. But many young adults also don’t venture far off the campuses that house their universities to get a sense of the communities around them.
Not so for Neuqua Valley graduates Erin Keeley and Meredith Jacobs.
Keeley is a 2010 Neuqua Valley graduate and a junior at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston majoring in corporate communications. Jacobs graduated from Neuqua Valley in 2009 and is a senior at Eastern majoring in family and consumer science.
Both young women began working with I Sing the Body Electric, an arts and prevention program that coordinates with seven counties around Charleston. The program draws volunteers and interns from Eastern. The crux of the program is to help local teens create prevention messages using art, thus increasing resiliency and reducing risky behaviors.
“It was a big culture shock,” Jacobs of going into the schools. “The problems are different, because they are in a small town and don’t have as many influences and they know everyone.”
Whereas Neuqua Valley graduates more than 1,000 students each year, the high schools near Charleston boast sometimes 50 students in all four-grade levels.
“It’s eye opening for students when they come down here,” said Julie Meinhart, the event coordinator for the program. “They learn a lot that, even though the dynamics of the school may be different, very serious issues are still there.”
The program is set up in three phases, beginning with student surveys that document issues students see in their lives.
The second phase takes the program into the schools, either into a full-school assembly or through a health class where the students are given an opportunity to decide what creative project they would like to pursue. Examples might be bullying or exercise. The art can be in any form such as sculpture, painting or writing. The goal is to create a prevention message. The program provides all the supplies necessary to create the project.
In the third phase, the projects are toured around the area to relay the positive prevention messages throughout the communities.
“The students warm up to them faster than us,” Meinhart said of the advantage of working with young adults. “That’s the benefit of having college-age students — they are more of someone the students will identify with. It’s really great to see the light bulbs go on for the volunteers and the high school students as well.”
Jacobs wanted the experience of working with younger people because she eventually plans to become a social worker.
“Kids have the opportunity to create something that usually relates to personal experience, and I can guide and help them,” she said.
Keeley has a broader vision. She hopes to work in some aspect of the health-care field, especially since the major provisions of Obamacare will take place when she graduates in 2014.
“At that age, it’s a great way to express the problems in their daily lives,” she said of the students.
She sees the excitement the students have when they arrive in the schools, to have the focus on them. But it also reminds her how many changes happen at that age.
“They are coming into their own,” Keeley said.
Jacobs wishes there were a similar program in Naperville.
“People are so easily influenced by alcohol and drugs,” she said. “A program like this would be awesome in Naperville.”