Jessica Martin

In the safe confines of my suburban town, we are surrounded by towns that have fallen quickly to opiate and heroin use. Once safe communities are darkened by a profound narrative; a story I did not want told in my hometown.  Meeting with scouts, student councils, parents and friends, I assembled a group of volunteers that shared my dream of having a safe place for local teens to congregate.  I united with the Manalapan Community Center Committee to turn an old firehouse into a youth and community center.  I needed support from the town council, local vendors and families. Reaching outside my comfort zone, I had to publicly speak at town meetings, Scout leader meetings and anywhere I could find an audience. I ran meetings for younger scout troops, met with student councils, organized awareness booths and started a social media page. The premise of Positive Youth Development is to provide positive safe activities so our teens do not engage in dangerous behaviors and make better choices later in life.
     After months of hard work and renovations the center was ready to open. I was chosen to organize the grand opening. Through the use of a raffle campaign, we were able to entice community members to view our brand new community center. Solicited completely through donations, I acquired live music, refreshments, thousands of dollars in door prizes, carnival games and more. I handled a full scale community outreach, advertising plan and event coordination. With standing room only, success was measured by teens learning how they can get involved in community programs or just come to "hangout" with their friends and be themselves. This center is for everyone. It makes no difference your age, skin color or social status. There are no labels, just a safe place to be yourself. These programs give teens the tools they need to succeed.

     The door prize raffle was a great motivational tool used to get the word out about our how the center would benefit our youth. Everyone loves to win prizes and the excitement expanded our reach and gave credence to our cause.  The center is still a work in progress, but I am proud to have made a difference. The truth is the building made an unrecognizable change, but I was the real butterfly. My eighty hour gold award project for Girl Scouts, had quickly taken on a life of its own and the hours more than doubled but I didn't mind. I wanted to see it through until the end.  I overcame my fears and found my voice because I loved is project so much.
    I have learned that courage is the strength to persevere. Without wanting to earn my Girl Scout Gold Award, I would not have had this wonderful opportunity. Sometimes, life intervenes and changes your course in ways you never could imagine. The key is to be receptive and open minded. Through girl scouts I had many great leadership opportunities. This year alone, I wrote and distributed an anti-bullying program, continued my Positive Youth Development campaign and I am currently running an Earth Day Challenge to promote environmentally friendly projects. I always imagined my greatest achievement would be on the soccer field. But now that dream seems simple and I want so much more for myself.  I have collected food for the Samaritan Center, Jeans for Jeans for Teens, participated in a Trunk or Treat Safe Halloween event and ran a Manalapan High School Special Needs Dance. I have learned if every person who has found a cause would have the courage to follow it through; this world would be a better place.

     My sister has now taken over my passion for this cause while I am away at college. While home on break, we am hoping to secure some donations to be used at upcoming events. From a marketing perspective, raffles are a fun, inexpensive way to build excitement and free advertising for your company. Since we were just starting out and did not have a gaming license we did not use money. People were just given tickets by participating in our event. And although we needed funds to continue our project more importantly, we needed supporters. People were exposed to the good we can do and the real benefit of positive youth development. Moving forward I hope we can improve and expand our programs. The use of raffle tickets and raffles has helped us start the initiative.

     Napoleon Bonaparte once said,” ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent”. I never intend to be the silent majority again.  Speak.  Find your passion. Find your voice and let our voice be heard. Community service has molded me into a person I can be proud of. I believe my contributions honor the good role models I wish to emulate: my teachers, my girl scout leader, and my parents. I plan to continue my service through college and hope to have to courage to never stop trying to make a difference.

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