by Sue Ann Rybak
Germantown resident Jeff Templeton, owner of J.T.’s Repairs and Lockout Assistance, has never been one to sit quietly by and “mind his own business.” He lives by the words, “Be the change you want to see in your world.”
The statement is a call to action, and it led Templeton to establish SPEAK, a nonprofit organization that encourages kids to speak up against peer pressure and stand up for positive change within their community.
Back in 2007, Templeton started a campaign to get people to speak up against crime and go against the stop-snitching culture.
“I started a website called ‘Don’t let me see you do it.com’ and created a T-shirt to counteract the ‘Stop-Snitching T-shirt,’” Templeton said.
He approached Chris Moore, of Mt. Airy, about the idea of starting SPEAK and about the possibility of engaging youth through school presentations, youth programs and community service projects.
Moore, a former business owner and father of three children, said he was willing to do anything to help the kids.
Templeton and Moore created a PowerPoint presentation that focused on the dangers of peer pressure. It is geared towards kids between the ages of 12 and 14 years old and includes skits that address different issues and scenarios faced by young people today.
SPEAK, which stands for Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids, has presented its program in 10 schools throughout the Philadelphia area, including Lingelbach and J.S. Jenks elementary schools.
The organization partners with other community groups to host various programs and service projects. For example, SPEAK is currently providing free cooking classes for kids in conjunction with the Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club, 328 W. Coulter St.
Templeton said in the beginning of October, members of the Philadelphia Fire Department came out and talked to the kids about what to do if there is a grease fire and how to put it out. Recently, a volunteer from Cottage Green came out to discuss food-borne illnesses. The organization seeks to empower kids and give them a voice.
Breaking the cycle
“If you’ve got a kid who is standing on the corner selling drugs everyday, making $500 or $600 a day, you can’t tell him to get a job at McDonald’s,” Moore said.
“We have to get them before they get there,” Templeton said. “Once they are in high school, they have the mind set that ‘we’re practically adults.’ But in ninth grade, they are still trying to figure things out and we can still get through to them.”
Moore said one of the problems is that you have kids 14 or 15 years old having kids.
“When their kids reach the age of when the parents had them, the kids think that is the norm,” Moore said. “One of the reasons kids don’t get the guidance they need is because their parents are so young. You can’t teach somebody something you never learned yourself.”
Templeton said the parents often have limited life experiences.
Sometimes, the parents don’t know [how to breach the topic of sex and other issues] because they are too young themselves,” he said. “The problem is no one is talking about that subject. Why is it okay to give kids condoms and not have any type of dialogue with them about peer pressure and sex?”
“If you don’t talk to your kids about sex and drugs, they will find out for themselves,” Moore said. “It’s right there for them everyday on the Internet. So, you have to talk to them.”
Moore said kids are bombarded with subliminal messages everyday from the media and music.
“Music has gotten so sexually explicit,” Moore said. “The problem is society is sending the message that it’s cool. There are too many kids raising kids.”
“People want to pretend that it’s not there,” Templeton said. “But, it is, and unless you talk to them about it, somebody else will.”
Both Moore and Templeton said there is a lack of guidance and positive role models in society.
“We have become the generation that eats their young,” Moore said.
He said society sends the message that children are expendable, adding that every time there are budget cuts they [the government] cut programs for our kids.
“You can’t blame these children for acting the way they do when you eliminate any positive path to help them succeed,” Moore said, noting that many inner city high schools have no bands.
“You have all these young aspiring musicians out there,”he said. “But, where can they get their start when we continue to cut all the music programs?”
“Parents are burned out with the way the world is going right now,” Templeton said. “It’s a struggle just to stay alive.”
“Kids develop their own sense of what it takes to get there,” Moore said. “They see drug dealers on the corner getting fast money, nice cars and jewelry.”
“The problem is they think this is the only way they can get these nice cars, clothes and other items,” Templeton said.
Templeton said society is sending the message that drugs are OK by selling “everything but peanut butter and chocolate blunt wraps.”
“When kids see adults behaving this way, it sends a clear message,” Templeton said. “Kids don’t even have to buy a pack of cigarettes. Adults say, ‘give me 75 cents; I’ll sell you a loose one’”
Both men say the SPEAK program, which has been presented to more than 100 kids, is making a difference.
Moore said that even if they only reach one kid, it’s worth it. Templeton recalled the time a girl walked up to them after the presentation and said it really made contact with her because all of her sisters in her family got pregnant when they were teenagers.
She wanted to break the cycle.
“She thanked us for touching on some of the issues that we talked about and how she found them to be so on target,” Templeton said.
SPEAK is holding a Helping Hands blanket, clothing and food drive on Nov. 18 in Love Park in Center City. Templeton said the community service project provides teenagers with an opportunity to have a positive impact on others. Donations of blankets, clothing and food are desperately needed for the event. SPEAK also is seeking volunteers for the event.
For more information about SPEAK or to volunteer or drop off donations, call its hotline number at 215-254-5157 or visit its website at www.phillyspeak.org