THIS STORY COURTESY THE KINGSPORT TIMES-NEWS
Each year, the Times-News and the INK Advisory Board invites area residents to nominate individuals or groups of “Students Who Make a Difference” to be honored in a holiday edition of INK ... news for teens.
The criteria is simple — tell us about a student or group of students who you believe make a difference in their community, school, church or the world at large.
And each year, we get letters from readers telling us about students who have brought about change in their community, stood up for a great cause, moved their school or families forward, or who have gone above and beyond in their service to others.
This year, one group made such a difference that they were nominated twice. Two different readers helped shine a light on the vast impact these young people are making in their community and our city — leaving little doubt that they are, in fact, Students Who Make a Difference.
“As I read over the qualifications for nominating students or groups who make a difference in our community, I was compelled to nominate the members of the New Vision Youth of Kingsport,” wrote Calvin Sneed.
“I cover their activities for the Douglass-Riverview community website, www.son sanddaughtersofdouglass.org , in the course of covering news in the community, and I am touched and amazed at the things these youth do for Riverview and for Kingsport.”
Wellness coordinator Kevin Lytle couldn’t agree more. He’s seen the group in action as well.
New Vision Youth currently has 47 members ranging in age from elementary school to college. However, the majority of members are in middle school or attend Dobyns-Bennett High School.
The group has a special connection to the elders of the Kingsport community — partnering with them on several events and providing many hours of service in their honor.
Each year, the New Vision Youth partner with the Kingsport Senior Citizens organization to sponsor an annual Easter Egg Hunt for both children and seniors. In addition, through that partnership, the youth celebrate Fun Fest with area senior citizens, accompanying them and assisting them at Fun Fest events.
Their annual Grandparents Day Luncheon, held in cooperation and through partnerships with the South Central Kingsport Community Development Corporation and the Kingsport Parks and Recreation Community Services Division, is one of the highlights of the year — as is the annual “Gents to Gentlemen” Pageant, the proceeds of which go to non-profits each year.
The New Vision Youth also do programs at nursing homes, singing Christmas carols and praise dancing during the holidays. Even when the holidays are over, the group regularly visits Kingsport area nursing homes — singing to residents and performing.
Twice a month, the youth of New Vision set aside time to participate in area cleanups for Keep Kingsport Beautiful, targeting specific areas around Kingsport prone for trash and litter. Among the areas where they pick up trash on a regular basis are downtown Kingsport, the V.O. Dobbins playground and park, and the Dale Street Children’s Park. They are also part of the Fun Fest “Trash Busters,” cleaning up litter and helping to empty the various painted trash receptacles at Fun Fest events on an annual basis.
Members also volunteer their time to give out gifts on the Santa Train, to work with the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure, and help hand out gift baskets of food at Thanksgiving and Christmas to a family in need for an area school, Lytle said.
Each year, the New Vision Youth also sponsor and participate in numerous educational programs and initiatives designed to enrich the communities in which they live. They present annual programs for Black History Month, including a full program at various churches, and sponsor trips to museums in Bristol, Greeneville and Rogersville highlighting African-Americans who contributed to the history of East Tennessee.
Led by their director, Johnnie Mae Swagerty, the New Vision Youth also participate in occasional drug intervention initiatives, sponsored by the Kingsport Police Department, and the “Take Back Our Streets” program — holding marches every year to emphasize those initiatives. Those programs are also done in Bristol and Johnson City.
“For the past eight years, the New Vision Youth have performed singing, praise dancing and drama programs at the Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church every third Sunday of the month,” Sneed wrote. “Bethel reports an increase in attendance on those days, because parishioners apparently love to see the children praising the Lord.”
Every two years, youth members of New Vision participate in the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Youth Conference, which teaches teenagers of driving age the rules of the road and driver safety. The conference is held in Nashville. In addition, youth members have also attended the Tennessee Teen Institute, which teaches kids how to be role models. The institute is held at the Tennessee Air National Guard Base at Smyrna.
All of the activities are organized and directed by Swagerty, who keeps the kids on a strict schedule — emphasizing homework and school activities, as well as the service, performance and fun of New Vision on weekends and after school.
“The Kingsport community and the Riverview neighborhood are a better society because of the New Vision Youth,” Sneed wrote, “and I personally feel that people who come in contact with these future adult leaders are enriched by the activities and programs that they participate in.”