This guest post is written by Ben Comer, executive director since 2002 of Next Generation, a non-profit organization based in Louisiana that works to inspire, encourage, and equip student and adult leaders to impact middle and high school students through the message of moral decision-making and character-based leadership.
Change the campus, change the culture.
That’s the vision we embrace at Next Generation, which proudly celebrates a landmark anniversary in August. For 20 years we have worked with youth in the Gulf South Region of Louisiana and Mississippi, promoting character and moral education. Our junior high and high school lunch clubs help students build a moral compass and promote long-term mentoring relationships with community leaders. This past year alone we helped reach 4,000 kids in 40 schools.
George and Denise Shinn have been strong supporters of our organization for several years through generous funding. The culmination of their support led to the establishment of the annual George Shinn Last to First Award, presented for the first time last year to Dontrail Johnson at our annual tribute dinner.
We are blessed to work with kids during a very impressionable period of their lives. Because our target age range is junior and senior high school, we have the incredible potential to positively impact the lives of young people for an entire seven- to eight-year period. I’ve personally seen hundreds of young people’s lives transformed—whether they are overcoming drug addiction, abusive relationships, or depression.
As we close in on two decades of positively impacting students’ lives, we are introducing a new initiative to raise awareness of human trafficking in the U.S. According to DoSomething.org, the average age that a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is twelve years old, and many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children. Although most people associate human trafficking as a problem outside the U.S., it is increasingly prevalent here in our country. As a response to this horrific crisis, we are incorporating this vital information into our curriculum along with our usual talks on bullying, drugs, sex, dating, and other relevant issues our students face.
Another new focus for this coming year is private school students. Our model has typically served public schools, but given the unique situation that 42% of students in Louisiana attend private school, we have long desired to reach this population of students. After 20 years of trying to influence private schools, this fall we finally have the privilege to start working with these precious students. We’ve learned that issues such as crime, bullying, and drugs transcend socio-economic and school borders, so we are thrilled to begin this new venture.
Thanks to faithful supporters such as The George Shinn Foundation, we will continue to work with young people, developing their character and leading them into leadership roles in their schools, churches, and communities.