Jeff Templeton (second from right), founder and president of Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids (S.P.E.A.K.), awarded Jenks Academy of Arts and Sciences eighth graders Jordan Robins (from left), Hannah Ballenger and Jade Owens with certificates of appreciation as part of their Golden Ticket Program. Robins was selected to participate in the S.P.E.A.K.'s shadow program. He will shadow Councilwoman Cindy Bass for a day. Ballenger and Owens both received a gift certificate from Cin Cin, one of the many local businesses that participate in the program. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Jeff Templeton (second from right), founder and president of Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids (S.P.E.A.K.), awarded Jenks Academy of Arts and Sciences eighth graders Jordan Robins (from left), Hannah Ballenger and Jade Owens with certificates of appreciation as part of their Golden Ticket Program. Robins was selected to participate in the S.P.E.A.K.’s shadow program. He will shadow Councilwoman Cindy Bass for a day. Ballenger and Owens both received a gift certificate from Cin Cin, one of the many local businesses that participate in the program. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It was this idea that prompted Germantown native Jeff Templeton, founder and president of Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids (S.P.E.A.K.), a non-profit that encourages kids to speak up against peer pressure and stand up for positive change in their community, to take action almost eight years ago.

“I was sick of the negative messages that were plaguing our city,” said Templeton, 42, as he recalled walking through the mall and seeing T-shirts that said “Snitches get Stitches” and “Kill-a-delphia.”

So, in an effort to promote peace in his neighborhood, he started a campaign to encourage people to speak up and come together to build a better community. Templeton, whose daughter recently graduated from J.S. Jenks Academy of Arts and Sciences in Chestnut Hill, designed a shirt to counteract the “Stop Snitching T-shirt” and created a website entitled www.dontletmeseeyoudoit.com.

“Law abiding citizens needed a voice to express their opposition to the Stop Snitching Culture and encourage youth to take positive action,” said Templeton, owner of J.T. Repairs and Lockout Assistance.

Templeton and his fellow supporters soon realized that in order to affect positive change, they needed to focus on helping youth become engaged citizens. Since its creation, S.P.E.A.K. (Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids) has empowered kids to help them become part of the solution.

Last month, the organization was honored as a 2014 Top-rated Nonprofit by GreatNonprofits.org, the leading provider of user reviews about nonprofit organizations. Tara Verner, a spokesperson for GreatNonprofits.org, said the awards are based on more than 20,000 reviews that were submitted by volunteers, program participants and donors. She added that only 11 nonprofits listed on the site in Philadelphia received the award.

“We are excited to be named a Top-Rated 2014 Nonprofit,” Templeton said. “Being on the top-rated list gives donors and volunteers more confidence that this is a credible organization.”

For example, one person wrote, “S.P.E.A.K. is an organization that not only recognizes the difficulties facing our youths of today but that voluntarily took the initiative to step up to the plate and take action to improve the outcome and direction of our futures.”

“Savvy donors want to see the impact of their donations more than ever,” said Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits.org. “During the holiday season, donors and volunteers are looking to support nonprofits that are making a difference in their community.”

S.P.E.A.K. partners with local schools to discuss the many challenges that today’s youth face such as bullying, underage drinking, smoking and teenage pregnancy. “We even discuss the history of ‘sagging’ [wearing pants below your waist] and where it originates,” Templeton said. “Other presentations we provide for free include ‘The Dangers of the Internet’ and ‘Drug Awareness.’ Focusing on important issues such as these is imperative to a child’s development.”

In a telephone interview, Danette Moody, the Home and School Secretary for J.S. Jenks, commented on S.P.E.A.K.’s free “Drug Awareness Presentation for Parents & Adults” that Templeton delivered last November at Jenks. “As a parent as well as a former police officer, I was surprised to find out about the many different ways children are hiding drugs and even getting them into our schools without anyone noticing,” Moody said.

“S.P.E.A.K. offers a wide variety of supports for students in the city,” said Amy Watson, a counselor at Jenks. “The organization acknowledges students who succeed academically and contribute to their communities. The Bullying Assemblies are an integral part of fostering positive and resilient children in today’s schools.”

Templeton said that S.P.E.A.K.’s Shadowing program gives children the opportunity to shadow public figures in their work places. “The program helps to break down barriers that may exist between today’s youth and city officials,” said Templeton, who was recently elected as a Democratic Committeeperson for the 12th Ward. “It removes the intimidation factor.”

Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Judge Giovanni Campbell have both mentored several students in the program. “Growing up in North Philadelphia, I see myself in many of the students that join me in City Hall,” Bass said. “I’m happy to partner with S.P.E.A.K. to provide young people with the chance to see first-hand how the laws that impact their communities are decided. Additionally, it is imperative that young people are able to see the number of opportunities that exist beyond their neighborhood, and S.P.E.A.K. is helping us do just that.”

Alexandria Childs, a student at Jenks last year, recently shadowed Bass. In a letter, Alexandria’s mother, Angela Child, wrote that the experience allowed her daughter to “see how it all comes together,” which was an “eyes-wide-opening” moment. Her mother wrote that Alexandria’s favorite moment was “when she was personally introduced during the Council meeting to the attendees and audience as they shared her achievements and successes.”

Court of Common Pleas Judge Giovanni Campbell said programs like S.P.E.A.K.’s Shadowing program “has definitely had a positive impact. I think there should be more positive reinforcement. The students who have participated in the program are very engaged. It’s one thing to have someone say ‘Hey, you could be a judge one day.’ It’s another thing to see a judge who looks like them. It makes it more tangible.”

To make a donation to S.P.E.A.K. or for more information, call its hotline at 215-254-5157 or visit its website at www.phillyspeak.org.

...