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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 12/10/2009

Real role models: Kids who use adversity to help others

By Valerie Strauss

Heard enough about Tiger Woods as a fallen role model? My colleague Tracee Hamilton, in her Post column today, makes definitive mincemeat out of anybody who thought Woods was a role model in more than great golfing technique.

How about teenager Brryan Jackson as a role model for kids?

When he was 11 months old, his father intentionally injected him with HIV-tainted blood, hoping to avoid paying child support.

Brryan didn’t die but grew up with his father in prison, convicted of first-degree assault, and with AIDS, which made schools reluctant to accept him and kids eager to fight him.

What did he do with this? He began volunteering at Camp Kindle, a camp for young people who have HIV/AIDS. He gives talks at schools around the country to educate kids about living with AIDS. And when he turned 18 he started his own non-profit, “Hope Is Vital,” to raise awareness and understanding for HIV/AIDS sufferers.

I asked him who his role model is. “My mom,” he said.

Brryan is one of four young people chosen to receive service awards (HALO, for Helping and Leading Others) from a program on Nickelodeon started by Nick Cannon, the president of TeenNick.

The others:

*Darrius Snow, born in Atlanta, one of five kids (each with a different father). His mom, a drug addict, left him when he was 2 years old, and he was taken in by an older cousin. Living in one of the most dangerous communities in Atlanta, Darrius, nevertheless, became the first in his family to graduate high school and is now at Voorhees College.

He also, among other activities, became president of BTEAM--Bankhead Teens Encouraging Action by Motivating others, a group of teenagers who work to transform their troubled neighborhood.

*Leah Stoltz of Long Island was diagnosed with scoliosis--a condition in which the spine becomes curved--when she was in sixth grade, and had to wear a full torso, hard plastic brace for 22 hours each day for 2 1/2 years to try to correct the curve. She had to have major spine surgery anyway and gave up her favorite activities for a year. Feeling frustrated and alone, she decided at the age of 13 to start a support group, and founded Curvy Girls of Long Island to help others with the condition. Now she is a spokeswoman for the National Scoliosis Foundation, and other chapters of Curvy Girls are opening.

*Megan Kilroy, a senior at Santa Monica High School, grew up with a dad who is a part-time life guard, and she developed a love for the ocean. She became the first appointed captain of Team Marine, an environmental group trying to clean up Southern California’s waters, and works in other environmental organizations as well. She has organized beach cleanups, testified at City Hall and staged protests to eliminate plastic bags in Santa Monica.

These kids will be honored Friday night on a show on TeenNick called "The HALO Awards."

Sure, there are celebrities on it--Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, LeBron James and Hayden Panettiere. Each one nominates one of the kids to win an award; the conceit being that celebrities are giving an award to kids rather than receiving it themselves. Each winner got to spend some time with the celebrity who nominated him or her.

Sure, the celebrities get a chance to talk about how great they are for helping others through their own favorite charities. But the real stars of the show are the kids, and the kids weren't doing their great work for the glory--because they never expected any. They do it because that is who they are. And that’s a message about character development that kids need to hear--especially from other young people.

We may not like it, but peer influence is extremely powerful and kids can relate to each other in a way that they don’t with adults. Adults and parents can talk about helping others until they are blue in the face, but seeing what other regular kids do may well have a more lasting effect.

The four winners attended a screening Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. at the Newseum, which was hosted by Cannon and his wife, Mariah Carey.

Asked about her role models, Stoltz pointed to the other three young people, and said, “They are.”

By Valerie Strauss  | December 10, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Civics Education, Learning  | Tags:  kids as role models, role models  
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Educators should take not of these young people to communicate to their students core values that make worthy citizens.

Posted by: harvard3 | December 10, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

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