Although this project is only in the planning stages, I believe that it has the potential to making a huge impact in the health, self-esteem, drive (to succeed), and lifestyles of many of America's youth.
Project Play is an idea that I thought up after noticing many things about today's youth. First, it is evident through many studies that way too many of our nation's youth are either obese or at the risk of becoming obese, and are potentially facing many other health risks due to these factors. Second, while juvenile drug use has been on the decline, drug use and violence by minors is still a very serious issue. Just the other day, I attended a State Bond Court Hearing for South Carolina, where, like I have learned in my Criminal Justice classes, the majority of the people that were being charged and arrested were young, minority (in this case, black), poor people. It broke my heart to see such young and potentially promising citizens already having a disadvantage in life because of a lack of positive adult supervision and a lack of involvement in any extra-curricular activity.
Project Play is one attempt, not for a solution to the problems facing America's youth (because no single thing will solve every problem), but an option for possibly reducing the problem, even if just one person's life is changed. Project Play is a program, I am sure, similar to others. I want Project Play to be a program, similar to, but not the same as programs like Big Brother/Big Sister. Project Play will use eager and positive, involved, intelligent, and mature high school and college role models (looking to beef up their resumes) as volunteers to help lead the program. Project Play participants will be students who may, typically, be from "the projects". These participants should be selected/recommended by the principal, teachers, and even community leaders (ie: pastors, etc.) to participate in this program. Of course, the Project Play program would be voluntary, but prospective participants should be highly encouraged to participate, and maybe even an incentive could be given upon participation and "completion" (ie: some type of school credit, a small scholarship, an award similar to that of students "lettering" in a sport, etc.). These students recommended to participate in this program should be students who have the potential to be successful, but lack self-esteem, parental involvement/encouragement, etc. to strive hard in school and elsewhere. They should also not be actively participating in other extra-curricular activities nor should they have a job.
Project Play would use youth mentors to help improve the lives of their classmates. Project Play leaders would, with the approval of some supervisor (whether it be a principal, guidance counselor, teacher, pastor, etc), meet with their mentees (the Project Play program participants) afterschool for a set number of times a week. In order to meet the physical, emotional, etc. needs of the participants, the peer leaders would have a variety of tasks. Tasks would include (but would not be limited to): a "study" focusing on different issues of importance (school violence, self-esteem, self-respect, respect for others, teen pregnancy, etc.), games/physical activity (either relating to issues discussed, ie: teamwork, or even a simple game of basketball). Every time the group meets, there should be a new topic for discussion (in order to improve the mental/emotional health of the participants) and there should be an activity/sport (in order to improve the physical health of the participants). At every stage along the way, there should be positive, but honest, feedback and encouragement.
Activities would NOT pressure program participants and should NOT have competition as its focus. There should be a circle of trust, specifically with the peer leader and the program participant, and the program participants should feel safe and able to discuss any issues without judgment or fear of disclosure. Also, participants in this program are in it for the purpose of getting the positive attention, role model, encouragement, involvement/activity, etc. that they are NOT receiving elsewhere.
If the peer leaders are truly such positive role models, they will take on this role with an enormous sense of pride and responsibility. They should feel that, in a quite big way, they are responsible for creating a more positive and healthy lifestyle for their peers. The peer leaders will have an adult director, to whom they can report, be advised by, etc. There should be a pre-planned group of lessons/activities, for the entire length of the program. And, upon completion of the program (whether through "graduation" or another way), there should be a huge celebration for both the participants and the leaders.
Many believe that peer pressure has a huge impact on the way others behave and the things they believe/value. Hopefully, Project Play will prove that positive peer pressure and guidance has an enormous impact on the lives of many potentially promising youth.