As a preface to this month’s extremely important topic, School and Community Crime Prevention, I just want to say what an inspiration it was to travel from Wisconsin all the way to North Carolina for the SAVE Summit. The amazing people who made the day possible, along with the Youth Advisory Board did a fantastic job of engaging the group and preparing for the day. The YABers were an inspirational, energetic group of teens acting as role models to SAVE members everywhere. It was my first opportunity to attend, and everyone involved with National SAVE did not disappoint. The strong tradition of SAVE was unfurled for us that day, with guests such as Dawne Orange, Alex’s mom, Angie Bynum, his friend and SAVE’s co-founder, and Gary Weart, his teacher and the very first SAVE advisor. Dr. Pamela Riley also spoke to the continued message of SAVE after having worked to make it the national entity it is, and behind the scenes was Carleen Wray, who works tirelessly to make SAVE the incredible force that it is today, inspiring young people around the world to be the change in their communities.
Having worked with SAVE for over ten years, seeing the very people instrumental in its origins was both exciting and humbling. Their words serve as a stark reminder of our ongoing need to prevent violence and crime in our schools and communities. As SAVE members, we continue to honor the lives of peacemakers like Alex Orange, who lost his life while trying to break up a fight at a party, by working to end that very violence that took him away from his family, friends, and teachers. Alex could have been just another statistic of violence, but Students Against Violence Everywhere was born from that tragedy and has since become a beacon for all who knew that there must be a better way. Voices continue to resound in the darkness, such as Sabrina Steger, who also spoke at the SAVE Summit. Sabrina tells her heart wrenching story of having lost her talented and caring daughter to a school shooter. She calls upon every one of us to continue the campaign to end the violence in our schools and communities, so that not one more innocent life is lost. Not one more family must feel the horrendous loss of a life gone too soon. Not one more friend will be changed forever, feeling helpless and alone.
So, we are called, SAVE members, to make that change. To be the youth voices that make grown-up choices. We must stand up, speak out, and work to end the violence. Here are a few ways in which we can begin this seemingly impossible task:
- Get the word out about SAVE – make it a school-wide effort. If students seem reluctant to get involved, start with the school leaders – adults and students. If your principal and the most well-known teachers are involved, others will follow suit. This especially applies to your student leaders.
- Campaign, campaign, campaign! Signs wherever you can get them, Twitter and Instagram announcements, school-wide announcements and information on the school web page. Get the word out and people will hear your message to be violence free.
- Host a fight free day – talk to your principal and other school leaders about what kinds of rewards they’re willing to offer to make this happen. Get creative with them, but also be willing to compromise – it’s not easy to reward a whole school. Maybe a special assembly? An extra five minutes of lunch? Will your principal do something potentially embarrassing to make this happen (shave his head, wearing her college adversary’s t-shirt for a day)?
- Work with community members – in what ways can you build a positive relationship with the local law enforcement to promote crime prevention? Can your members buddy up with a community member to clean your neighborhood? What fun activities can you ask officers to engage in with students? Maybe a day where students can have lunch with an officer?
Whatever you do to prevent crime and violence is a start. It may seem a daunting task, but you have the power to invoke a change in thinking in your school and community. It has to start somewhere. Let it start with you.
Sarah Dianich, 2016 SAVE Advisor of the Year from Mukwonago High School