Grant funds youth leadership program

Photo provided by JODIE POWELL-ROHNER -- Patty Hubert, State Farm Insurance agent, of Ponchatoula, from left; Samantha Smith, KEYS Alliance member and student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School; Jodie W. Rohner, chief executive officer and executive director Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa, Inc.; Sean Gipson, KEYS Alliance member and student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School; and John Mollere, State Farm agent, of Ponchatoula, celebrate a $15,000 grant to Crime Stoppers KEYS Alliance Youth Leadership program. Show caption
Photo provided by JODIE POWELL-ROHNER -- Patty Hubert, State Farm Insurance agent, of Ponchatoula, from left; Samantha Smith, KEYS Alliance member and student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School; Jodie W. Rohner, chief executive officer and executive director Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa, Inc.; Sean Gipson, KEYS Alliance member and student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School; and John Mollere, State Farm agent, of Ponchatoula, celebrate a $15,000 grant to Crime Stoppers KEYS Alliance Youth Leadership program.

Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa will have enough money to fund its youth crime prevention and leadership progam, officials said Friday.

Money hadn’t been available to continue funding until Friday, when the State Farm Foundation Good Neighbor Grant Program awarded Crime Stoppers $15,000 to support its KEYS (Keeping Every Youth Safe) Alliance Youth Leadership Program.

Jodie Powell-Rohner, the chief executive officer and executive director of Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa, said she has been trying to make the program grow with very little money.

The KEYS Alliance program is not in the Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa budget, she said.

“We had no money,” Powell-Rohner said. “We beg, borrow and steal for handouts, etc.”

Those handouts and educational materials are key to the KEYS Alliance program, which is a leadership and crime-prevention program for youth.

The program offers youths a variety of resources on healthy lifestyles, safety, leadership and communication skills and an opportunity to meet other people in their communities who share the ideals of a drug-free and crime-free life, Powell-Rohner said.

The KEYS Alliance is an accredited chapter of Operation Snowball, a division of the Illinois Teen Institute, Powell-Rohner said.

Snowball was created in 1979 on the belief that youths and adults can make responsible decisions when provided with factual information and an opportunity to develop an understanding of one’s self and motivations, and is based on a “Community of Caring.”

In August 2011, Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa staff and a group of community volunteers were trained and certified by Operation Snowball Inc. to administer the program to area students in eighth through 12th grades.

Patty Hubert, of State Farm Insurance in Ponchatoula, and agent John Mollere agreed to sponsor the program for the first time.

Hubert said her office has sponsored other community service projects run by Crime Stoppers of Tangipahoa for the past three years, but said she believes the KEYS program is especially important to strengthening the community.

“We’re interested in neighborhood safety,” Hubert said. “That’s one of our particular projects to institute this year.”

The KEYS Alliance Youth Leadership Program allows students, who become KEYS leaders, to teach other students about drug and alcohol abuse, bullying and other issues teenagers face, she said.

“We are very excited to be supporting Crime Stoppers and their youth safety programs,” Hubert said. “When State Farm gives back to Ponchatoula and the surrounding community through our grant funding, some of the world’s most pressing problems are addressed.

“In this case, our Good Neighborhood Citizenship grant will help Crime Stoppers provide our local youth with life skills and leadership opportunities that will help them make better decisions,” she said. “The program provides an opportunity for them to learn the facts about distracted driving, Internet safety, alcohol and drug abuse, and other issues.”

Powell-Rohner said Crime Stoppers lets leaders in the program be peer advocates.

While the program only started last year, it has more than 40 youth leaders, she said.

Powell-Rohner said she and Bridget Bailey devised the program to help fill a need throughout the parish.

The leaders target schools and school organizations, church groups and anyone who will listen to their message of healthy living, she said.

Samantha Smith, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond, joined KEYS to help bring the KEYS message to youths her age.

“If you’re going to drink, wait until it’s legal,” Smith cautioned. “And don’t do drugs.”

She said she hopes to teach other youths that drugs and alcohol aren’t “something to play with. You really don’t need that to have fun.”

New member Sean Gipson, a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas, is still finding out what the KEYS Alliance Youth Leadership Program is all about but said so far he enjoys it.

His message about alcohol to teenagers was very similar to Smith’s.

“It’s not important,” Gipson said. “Wait until you’re allowed to do it.”

In addition to keeping the program running, Powell-Rohner said the grant money also will be used to send youth leaders to local conferences.

To become a KEYS Alliance Youth Leader, students must fill out an application detailing what they do and do not know about the topics they will have to discuss with other youths.

For information, call Powell-Rohner at (985) 634-0590.