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Youth Movement: Decatur teens leading by example

Decatur Daily - 2/12/2018

Feb. 12--Defying the negative stereotypes surrounding Generation Z, teenagers across north Alabama are unplugging from social media and reconnecting with their communities.

They are serving at soup kitchens, tutoring children, collecting canned food items, volunteering with sports leagues for special needs individuals, and participating in walks to raise awareness for autism, cancer, muscular dystrophy and Alzheimer's.

"People have my generation all wrong. We really care and want to make a difference. You know, the same people talking negatively about my generation, their parents were talking that way about their generation. I think there is something great in my generation," said Charles Henry, a senior at Austin High School.

Meet two 18-year-olds, Henry and Decatur High senior K.T. Washington, individuals focused on making a positive change in their world.

Around the Austin campus, Henry, over the last three years, established a reputation as being willing to participate in any activity.

When the former drama director Susan Thompson asked Henry to perform in a musical, he agreed and made his acting debut in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." When the musical's choreographer, Jennifer Erickson, urged Henry to take dance classes, he signed up and, after four months of ballet classes, danced the lead male role in "The Nutcracker."

He represented the school at Boys State, spent a week at Alabama'sHouse of Representatives for the YMCA's Youth in Government program, founded Austin's dance team, which performs at pep rallies and football and basketball games, and participated in Show Choir.

"He wants to be a leader. He has stepped up and is trying to make a difference in this school and community," said Beth Stough, the choir teacher at Austin. "He is really concerned about the youth his age and wants them to see the positive impact they can have on the world."

Every opportunity to improve the community, Henry takes.

As a member of Decatur Youth Services' WINS program, short for We Intend Not to Smoke, Henry talks to school groups about the harmfulness of tobacco products. Huntsville's Heart of the Valley YMCA selected Henry as a delegate to the Christian Values Conference. And, last summer, he participated in a local Youth Corps Program. Henry used the $500 grant he received through the program to buy games and activity kits for residents of Decatur nursing homes.

"It is such an amazing program. It showed me how easy it was to give back to my community," Henry said.

Henry's commitment to education and community service earned him one of the Decatur Morgan County Minority Development Association's scholarships handed out at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. It was his first scholarship.

"I felt humble. When I got on the stage and they said my name, I felt that anything is possible. Martin Luther King Jr. made such a difference during his time. We need to carry that on and be a better and stronger nation," Henry said.

Henry, who plans on studying at Calhoun Community College or Alabama State University and pursuing a career in broadcast communications, credited his mother for teaching him the importance of an education.

"She does surprise pop-ins for me and my brother. She'll sit in the back of the class and watch us. All the other students are like, aren't you a little old? I'm like, no, I have a mom who cares. And that makes me lucky," Henry said.

Like Henry, Washington focuses on the needs of others. She started working with Decatur High's developmental program for students with special needs in August.

She helps teachers in the classroom, works one-on-one with the students, cheers them on as they play basketball and assists the office staff.

"Officially, her responsibilities are to run the mail and any errands. At the beginning of school, when not a lot was going on, she could've just sat and done homework, but she asked if she could go in the classroom and work with the students. She has formed close relationships with the students. She is a precious child and genuinely cares about them," said Amy Robbins, with the developmental department.

For Washington, who grew up watching her mother run a home for special needs individuals, working in the developmental department feels natural. She described the hours she spends with the students as the highlight of her day.

"It has been so fun and eye-opening. It made me look at people differently," Washington said. "I feel happy and blessed with what I can do and what I take for granted sometimes. Since I can, I need to help others who can't."

Washington's service to others will continue after graduation when she enlists in the Navy.


-- or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.


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