Giving Teens a Voice

NYS - News Story

Huntsville's Teen Think Tank Used at the 2002 National Youth Summit on Violence Prevention in Washington, D.C.


Teen Think Tanks of America, Inc., based in Huntsville, AL, made an impact at the National Youth Summit on Preventing Violence as teen ambassadors identified violence-related issues in 8 major categories and produced specific policy recommendations for the White House. Nearly 1,000 teenagers from 40 states and 30 foreign countries marched on Washington D. C. on Tuesday, February 19, 2002 to raise their voices in unison against youth crime and violence.  The march was the culmination of the 4-day National Youth Summit on Preventing Violence.  Youth from ages 12 - 20 met with law enforcement officers and child service workers to brainstorm ways to reduce and prevent teen violence and then sent their message on to the White House and eventually to Congress. 


While young people today are growing up faster and smarter than ever before, they are also facing tremendous problems that never existed in past generations.  When their parents were young, the greatest concerns were about alcohol, drugs, and gang violence.  Unfortunately, today's teens also face the daily threat of school violence, internet stalking and identity theft, violence portrayed on television, in movies, and even song lyrics and most recently, terrorism.  Yet no one seems to be asking the teens what they feel or what they think could be done to prevent crime.


The National Youth Summit on Preventing Violence, sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council, gave teens a long awaited voice.  Each state was given the opportunity to send two special delegates to serve as McGruff Ambassadors and conference leaders for this youth-driven conference.  Leslie Dean, a senior at Buckhorn High School who currently serves as United Way of Madison County Youth Leaders Council President and Governor of Alabama Girls State served as Alabama's Ambassador.  A total of 32 McGruff Ambassadors participated in this pivotal part of the summit.


Using a consensus model and collaborative group-decision technology donated by Teen Think Tanks of America, Inc., based in Huntsville, AL, the 32 McGruff Ambassadors identified and focused their concerns into 8 separate tracks with specific policy recommendations.  The teens gathered information, statistics, comments and suggestions from the full body of participants, and then entered that information into databases into networked laptop computers.  The Ambassadors worked together to prioritize the information they had gathered and identify the most pressing problems concerning the teens.  The eight tracks the youth focused on were:  Crime Prevention Basics, Safe Schools, Entertainment and Crime Prevention, Community Activism, Technology Crime, Substance Abuse, Media, and Policy.


On the second day of the summit, the Ambassadors were given an additional challenge:  develop policy recommendations on Homeland Security that can be given to the White House immediately.  The task involved surveying the teens at the summit to identify their concerns and fears about safety and security in their homes, schools, community and the nation since September 11th.  In less than one hour, the Ambassadors had identified more than 60 basic concerns, prioritized and compressed the list into 13 questions in survey form that were then loaded into portable computers for the summit participants to complete.  To ensure that the policy recommendations were valid, the teens developed problem statements, identified barrier statements and then brainstormed solutions to the problems.  The students then formalized the policy recommendations. 


In less than 8 hours a list of 12 policy recommendations was emailed to Christopher Furlow, Director of State and Local Office of Homeland Security, The White House.  Mr. Furlow reviewed the policy recommendations and addressed the youth's recommendations at the Tuesday morning march and rally at Pentagon City.  The formal summit report with all the youth policy recommendations will go to the Office of the President and Office of the Vice-President, both Houses of Congress and to every Governor in the United States of America.


Facilitators for the Teen Think Tank sessions were Brice Marsh, President of Teen Think Tanks of America, Inc. and a Senior Computer Scientist with CSC Corporation at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and Brian Boer, President of Collaborative Management Services Inc. (CMSi), San Ramon, CA.   Both gentlemen are certified professional facilitators and instructors of electronic meetings using software, a powerful tool for computer-supported collaboration, often referred to as electronic brainstorming.  Linda Bonner, Director of Marketing and Communication, United Way of Madison County, Alabama completed the systems team as the editor of the official Summit Report.


Jim Copple, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and Jack Crawford, President of NCPC provided assistance to the Ambassadors during the Think Tank Sessions.   Sharon Corle of NCPC was the Summit Coordinator and Hamilton Sneed was the Youth Chair of the Summit. 


Special guest at the Youth Summit and participant in the Youth march was Becky Bonner, Miss Alabama American Coed 2001, from Madison, Alabama who spoke to the teens, provided support for the summit participant surveys and assisted with the Ambassador meeting sessions.