Save Our Students Initiative Seeks to Reduce Crime and Foster Relationships
Teens across Orange County are taking part in the Save Our Students Initiative, an annual series of summer weekend activities for at-risk youth. The initiative’s first sessions of 2023 are already underway and have included water balloon battles, dodgeball tournaments and dance-offs.
A key recommendation of the Orange County Citizens Safety Task Force, 40 Save Our Students sessions are planned this summer. Initiative leaders say their goal is to provide area youth with worthwhile entertainment choices, keep teens safe during the times they are most at risk, and foster enduring mentoring relationships.
“The fun and games are just one aspect of this,” said Tracy Salem, deputy director of Orange County’s Community and Family Services Department, which funds the initiative through the Citizens Safety Task Force. “Once we have the kids in the door, we want to form bonds and build a sense of trust between them and the community volunteers, who interact with them throughout the summer and hopefully beyond.”
The initiative was founded by members of Orange County’s faith-based community following a string of violent youth-related incidents in 2020. Events are held in Orange County’s Parks and Recreation sites and Boys & Girls Club locations in the strategically selected communities of Apopka, Bithlo, Carver Shores, Eatonville, Goldenrod, Parramore, Pine Hills and Winter Garden.
Each Save Our Student session begins with an inspirational message from a community volunteer, which have included local elected officials, clergy and law enforcement officers. This is followed by an organized team exercise session and a themed night of entertainment.
Last year, more than 1,300 young people took part in 29 Save Our Students sessions. Salem believes the teens will walk away from each event with a new life lesson that will assist in their personal growth.
“This year, our community volunteers are focusing heavily on conflict resolution, and how to make sound decisions in difficult moments,” she said. “Ultimately, the goal of this unique partnership is to help these kids make better life decisions and reduce crime across all Orange County communities.”
For a complete list of summer events for the Save Our Students Initiative, visit the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida.