New SHAPE Director Excited about Organization's Future

The SHAPE of youth

Despite avid teen interest in the program, SHAPE (Springfield Holland Assets Partnership for Excellence) has struggled to gain a foothold in the community over the past few years.

That is something new executive director Stacy Browning plans to change. "I want the community to look at SHAPE and realize it's worthwhile and making a difference," she said.

The new director, who began on February 26, is busy redefining the program  and making plans for future events.

Formed more than five years ago by community and student leaders, the non-profit organization's goal is to instill character assets in Springfield area youth. It is open to any teen in grades nine through 12.

Under the director's guidance, SHAPE will be moving in a new direction and to a new location. The organization recently partnered with the Wolf Creek YMCA, and Mrs. Browning, who teaches fitness programs at Wolf Creek, will begin to conduct regular meetings at the center this fall.

Students who participate in SHAPE will be offered a complimentary YMCA membership. "They must participate in at least three events to be part of SHAPE," she explained.

Currently, the organization's roster lists about 200 students as members. Mrs. Browning is in the process of reviewing the list and gauging the interest of those students as well as determining who will be graduating in June.

The group is looking for new members. "I'd like to see SHAPE grow. I want kids to have fun, but I also want them to make a difference in their community," she said.

Through various committees, Mrs. Browning will continue to promote the 40 developmental assets, which were identified by the Search Institute as essential building blocks of healthy child development.

Students chair six committees-literacy, spirituality, substance abuse prevention, modeling responsible behavior, community involvement and volunteerism.

Each student-led committee develops activities for the community under the direction of Mrs. Browning and community leaders. Several groups are busy with activities this spring.

Last week, the spirituality committee held a 24-hour fast to understand how the indigent feel when they go hungry. The event culminated with a collection of canned goods and monetary donations for the Holland American Legion food drive.

The spirituality committee also is making plans for Springfield High School's baccalaureate ceremony at 6 p.m., on June 7.

Members of the modeling responsible behavior committee are at work on the annual "mock crash" program, which is held prior to prom. This year's event will take place at 1 p.m., May 17 at the high school.

The mock crash is designed to show prom- goers the dangers of using  drugs/alcohol.

On May 11, the volunteerism committee will host a blood drive at the high school. Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., students, staff and others will donate blood. The goal of the drive is to encourage students to help others.

The community involvement committee is busy making plans for this summer. The group plans to set up arts and crafts tables at the Springfield Township Freedom Celebration on July 1.

Although spring and summer are busy times of the year for many committees, fall and winter also are filled with events.

Volunteerism and community service committees kick off the school year with the Red Ribbon campaign. Last year, the groups strung a "ribbon" of red posts around the Village of Holland to encourage a drug-free, healthy lifestyle.

During the holiday season, the committees work together to make Christmas brighter for less fortunate youth. With help from an anonymous donor, the students wrap a room full of gifts and play the role of Santa's helper, writing each child a letter.

The literacy committee also keeps active throughout the year, conducting book discussions at the library. Mrs. Browning said plans are under way to create an open blog on the SHAPE Web site to invite dialog. "The group's goal is to encourage reading," she added.

While the committees meet on a regular basis, the group as a whole doesn't get together very often. That is one of the changes the director plans to make with monthly meetings at the YMCA.

She sees a group meeting as a benefit to all, noting that it gives each committee the opportunity to update the others on their activities and seek input on ideas.

Mrs. Browning, who holds a bachelor's degree in health education from the University of Toledo, looks forward to bringing the teens together under one roof and working with the students.

"I want to take the education I have to make a difference with teens. I want them to grow into good leaders, making good choices." She added, "They are the future of our community."

-Jane Maiolo