The Prince William County Healthy Communities Healthy Youth Council recently held its annual Local Hero Community Recognition ceremony to honor people in the community who did something last year to help young people.
According to its mission statement, the council's goal is to enable people in the community to build developmental assets in youth through "educating, communicating, empowering and serving the community." The council envisions a "safe and healthy environment for all youth."
Prince William County Executive Christopher E. Martino expressed pride in the council when he spoke at the ceremony at the Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center. "Healthy Communities Healthy Youth continues to recognize and celebrate the actions to help youth in the community, and I'm very proud of that."
Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Steven L. Walts said the young people in the community were the beneficiaries of the efforts of many organizations and people. Those who were recently recognized, Walts said, were among the best in the county. "The local heroes exemplify how to support and how to build leadership skills and self-awareness in our youth, so that they might one day be leaders themselves in this community and others."
Guest speakers at the ceremony included long-time Prince William County residents Lance Frye, who founded Woodcrafters Furniture and Cabinetry, and Mike Garcia of Mike Garcia Construction, Inc. Frye and Garcia told stories of their success in the community to encourage and, hopefully, inspire the youth attending the program.
This year, the council recognized 15 people and organizations that contributed to the wellbeing of Prince William County's youth. The group represented the largest number of recipients in the council's 11-year history in the county. "It's stronger than ever, and it's growing. There are more award recipients than ever. That's exciting," Martino said.
Among those recognized were several county employees and agencies, including:
Deb Oliver, with Prince William County's Public Works Department, was honored for her 15 years of organizing, coordinating and leading the Youth Ambassadors Program. The ambassadors program includes half-day environmental conferences for high school students to learn about community conservation projects. The students then take what they've learned to the community to lead and educate younger participants.
Ellen Chang, a family services worker with the Prince William County Department of Social Services, was recognized for more than 25 years of working with pregnant and parenting teens through the Bridges Program, which empowers young parents to take control of their lives. Chang helps young parents improve their lives and parenting skills by helping them continue their education. The program also helps young parents learn how to meet basic needs, such as child care and health care.
As part of the TEAM Summer Quest program, the Prince William County Police Gang Response Intervention Team helped further the program's goal of providing at-risk youth with "learning through experiences" outside of their social and economic boundaries. The program, which has been offered for eight years, pairs adult community mentors to help youth grow and become responsible, caring adults in the community.
Prince William County Police Officer Dennis Jensen was recognized for his work in heading up the Police Explorer Program, which consists of local 14 to 16 year olds who learn about law, court procedures, police patrol techniques and organizational skills. Explorers are asked to put those skills to work to serve the community in a positive manner. The program promotes character, appreciation for community service and leadership development.
Margaret Hoover, an intensive juvenile probation officer with the 31st Court Service Unit, was recognized for her work in inspiring young people to live up to their potential by doing the hard work it takes to make changes in their lives while learning from their mistakes.
Other community members who were recognized include:
Prince William County Human Rights Commission
Leadership Prince William
Osbourn Park H.S. Metal Jackets 2068, robotics
TEAM Quest – consisting of staff from the following agencies; Manassas City Police, Prince William County Community Services, HIDTA Prevention, 31st District Court Service Unit, Prince William County Gang Response Intervention Team (GRIT), City of Manassas Department of Social Services, Greater Manassas Boys and Girls Club, Manassas Park Parks and Recreation Center.
Northern Virginia Youth Athletic Association
PWC Panthers Track Club
Kyra Morris, student of The House, Inc.
Rebecca Rush, student of The House, Inc.
Kirstin Martin, student of Prince William County Schools
Richard Shahan, Prince William County Schools
Bishop Patrick O. Thomas, Dale City Christian Church