From the moment the music and lights rose to launch the Steppin’ Up Rally, which was held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Van H. Priest Auditorium, students ages 12 and older were invited to step up to positive behavior in and out of the classroom. Including targeted topics for their adult family as well, the program was the first event of the year for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program, also known locally as Project Safe Zone.
Octavious Tookes, Project Coordinator for Project Safe Zone, and Doug Freer, Tobacco Prevention Specialist with the Madison County Health Department, served as Masters of Ceremony for the occasion that urged youth to step up to personal responsibility, good citizenship, academic excellence, and faith on all levels. Planners and sponsors donated considerable time and resources to ensure the success of the event, including prize sponsors like Madison County Community Bank and Badcock Furniture that partnered to donate a flat screen television. North Florida Community College partnered with the event allowing the rally to be held at the Van H. Priest auditorium. Additional prizes and cash awards were presented throughout the evening. Greater than the enthusiastic responses to the prizes, however, was the impact of the musical performances, guest speakers, and the motivational message of special guest, Marvin “Merv” Mattair.
Inviting organizers and guests on stage to form a wall of support for Madison County Youth, Marvin “Merv” Mattair electrified the crowd as special guest speaker of the Steppin’ Up Rally.
Following opening remarks from Lou Miller, superintendent of Madison County Schools, and Kim Barnhill, administrator of the Madison County Health Department, Freer offered a compelling tobacco-free message to the youth audience of over one hundred. Speakers Ksena Zipperer, Sam Carter and Craig Wilson then provided a series of entertaining and informational lifestyle messages, which featured cautious reminders for parents and adult family to be watchful of vulnerable children and teens.
Prior to Mattair taking the microphone, members of Rocky Springs Missionary Baptist Church moved the crowd with a stirring number, setting the tone for the special guest speaker. Members of the Boyz to Kings program introduced and hugged their mentor as he approached the stage, where he unleashed a motivational montage that reached every ear.
Founder of the Boyz to Kings program, Mattair has gained local popularity for his efforts as an author, speaker, coach and volunteer. His powerful personal testimony and audience participation concluded with adult leadership joining him on stage, where they locked hands and formed a wall of support for the health and safety of Madison County youth. The “Be The Wall” campaign to combat underage drinking, which is sponsored locally by the Madison County Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coalition, who partners with the Safe School Healthy Students Initiative, provided a striking banner that reinforced the presentation. Jerome Wyche, local community organizer for the Coalition, later asked all chaperones to sign a themed note card designed to look like a brick to represent their support of the wall campaign.
Additional presentations included a video on bullying, which was presented by Denise Robinson, prevention specialist with Project Safe Zone, and a riveting closing performance by St. James Missionary Baptist Church. Organizers extended thanks to all sponsors, volunteers and visitors, with big kudos going out to Media Coordinator Heather Welch at Madison County Central School and Art Instructor Don Smith at Madison County High School for their student’s promotional support.
Project Safe Zone is committed to a proven action plan that is designed to create the permanent positive behaviors necessary to improve student and school performance. In order for these activities to have substantial and lasting results, however, parents and the community must connect to Madison County’s most vital resource – the education of its children. In the upcoming months, a media outreach will be launched throughout the district, where organizers gratefully request all concerned to donate a few hours to this worthwhile cause. Please contact Jodie Price at (850) 973-5192, ext. 139 for more information.