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Youth Assistance honors 35 good kids

by CJ Carnacchio

May 09, 2012

Oxford-Addison Youth Assistance honored 35 model students at its annual Youth Recognition Ceremony last week. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
If it's true that good deeds and kindness are contagious, then there was an epidemic last week at Oxford High School's Fine Arts Center.

That's where Oxford-Addison Youth Assistance (OAYA) honored 35 fine, upstanding students for their selflessness and positive contributions to the community as part of the group's annual Youth Recognition Ceremony.

Although their deeds and accomplishments differed, OAYA Caseworker Cassandra Goulding said all of the students "share a common thread."

"Our young nominees are compassionate, concerned and committed to making a difference in the lives of the citizens in this fine community," she said. "I'd like for the nominees to stand up, so we can give you a round of applause."

The young people, who ranged from elementary to high school students, were honored for such things as mentoring others; working to stop bullying; serving as role models; helping feed the needy; tending to a community garden; making care packages for soldiers; coaching Special Olympics basketball; engaging in beautification projects; and demonstrating leadership abilities that resulted in positive contributions to others.

"Come up here tonight with pride and take your awards because you deserve it . . . The whole community's proud of you," said Oxford Village Police Chief Mike Neymanowski, who was the ceremony's guest speaker along with his second-in-command, Sgt. Mike Solwold.

"I'm very proud of you and I want you to keep it up," said Solwold, who's always made communicating with, helping and mentoring young people a top priority during his law enforcement career in Oxford.

In a perfectly-timed comedic moment, as Solwold began his address, a little girl in the audience exclaimed quite loudly, "You're the one who gave my mommy a ticket!"

Given how much emphasis there is in the world on young people doing bad things such as committing crimes and abusing various substances, Solwold told the young honorees, "It's nice to get recognized for the good things that we do."

He warned them that on the long road of life that lies ahead, they're going to face many challenges such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco and peer pressure.

Some of these challenges are deceptive like K2 (or "Spice"), which is a blend of dried herbs, sprayed with synthetic compounds and sold in small packets.

Although it's marketed for use as incense or potpourri, it's actually being smoked as a drug. Although some claim it's synthetic marijuana, K2 is actually 10 times more intense than traditional pot and can have much more serious effects.

Teenagers have been hospitalized and suffered severe hallucinations, increased heart rates and seizures. Some have even died from using it.

Michigan banned K2 in 2010.

Solwold indicated that prior to the ban, there was a local store owner who was selling it, even though he was well aware of its potentially deadly effects.

When the sergeant asked why he still sold it, the owner replied, "Well, if we don't, someone else is going to make money, so we might as well make money, too."

"Unfortunately, it's the Almighty Dollar and greed that sometimes get the best of some people," Solwold told the young honorees. "We're all better than that, and I want you guys to continue to strive to be better."

Neymanowski agreed with Solwold that it's a refreshing experience to honor local youth for the positive things they've done.

"I firmly believe that the majority of our young people in this community do good and are on the right pathway," he said.

Neymanowski focused his address on the parents in the audience. "I want to congratulate the parents here this evening because I think that's important," he said.

The chief, who's the father of three grown children, let parents know that he understands how difficult it can be raising kids these days.

"You parents out here, I think, certainly have more challenges than I did 12 years ago," said Neymanowski, citing technological advancements such as social media websites and text messaging as examples.

"I'm not saying technology is bad; it's good," but there are people who use these advancements to hurt children or convince them to do bad things, the chief said.

That's why parents "have to watch over" how their kids are using this technology and who they're communicating with while using their wireless devices and laptops.

Neymanowski stressed the importance of parents spending time with their kids and staying actively involved in their lives as much as possible.

When the chief recently asked his youngest daughter, who just finished up her third year at Michigan State University, what he and his wife did to get her through "those difficult teen years" and point her in the "right direction," she replied, "You were there when I needed you. You were there when I got stuck on my homework. You listened when I had problems . . . You came to all my school functions and you supported me and gave me confidence at my sporting events."

"She also told me, 'You gave me solid rules to live by.'"

Neymanowski indicated he understands if can be difficult at times for parents to always be there for their kids.

"As adults, we certainly have our problems work, paying bills, putting food on the table," he said. "But I know each and every one of you (parents) this evening has made a commitment (to be involved) with the young people because (they're) the fruits of (your) labor. You should be very proud of that and I congratulate you for that. Just keep it up."