The gymnasium inside the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Pines in Longview was abuzz with activity Saturday, with about 90 teens and adults playing cards, pool, air hockey and foosball.
A few younger kids were having their faces painted, and more teens huddled at tables, talking.
“Would you mind passing some of these out for me?” Shalonda Adams asked Pine Tree teacher David Quinn, one of several local educators and coaches who joined the young people for a Community Day sponsored by Hope for Youth, the group Adams.
An outreach of the city of Longview’s Partners in Prevention, Hope for Youth was founded in the wake of the high murder rate that descended on Longview in 2015.
Adams had asked Quinn to help pass out green stickers with the simple directive: “start with hello.”
“If you see a kid sitting in the cafeteria by himself every single day, you need to stop by that table and say, ‘My name is...,’ “Adams said. “And start a conversation. A lot of times, our students as they go back to school, from their social-emotional (condition), they don’t have friends and feel like they don’t matter.”
That was the theme of the new Hope for Youth event, getting young people and school mentors together to fellowship and take that good vibe into the upcoming school year.
Motivational speaker Emmett Shankle and Pine Tree coach Matthew Bryant took a moment to look over the busy scene. Bryant said the informal setting allowed the teens to drop their defenses and get to know the adults who care about them.
“Definitely,” he said. “It allows them to see us in a little bit different light. Playing pool or a card game, it just allows people to find some common ground.”
Shankle said the day’s mission was to “take back our youth.”
“And it is imperative that we be proactive instead of reactive,” he said, as a tray of grilled hot dogs passed by. “Food is a great equalizer. And in Texas, nobody does it better.”
Just before a period of speeches and a role-playing demonstration, the eight or nine Pine Tree student athletes in the hall were invited outside to honor one of their own who died this past week.
Pirate offensive lineman Jadarlon Key wiped tears with his palm after the team released balloons outside in memory of Kevin “K.J.” Jackson. He said later the basketball player had entered the hospital with heart problems.
“I talked to him three days before he went, and he is gone,” Key said of his friend, but adding the ‘start with hello’ message is one he has embraced. “Right on, I’ve got no choice. I feel like everybody wants to have a cool person with them, at least someone who knows they exist.”