2022 Youth Explosion teaches local youth about mental health, safety

Published 4:57 pm Monday, March 21, 2022

Local youth from around Oxford gathered at the Stone Center on Saturday morning for the Youth Explosion ’22, featuring a day of fun, prizes and lessons on mental health and safety.

Kids received a visit from local emergency response departments and a University of Mississippi student as guest speakers, gifts and games to play during the event. After the speakers’ presentation, kids got to explore the Oxford Fire Department’s new fire truck and the Lafayette County Sheriff Department’s van. OFD and LCSD officials gave the children a tour of their vehicles and allowed them to get a first-person view of the insides.

However, organizers wanted to make Youth Explosion a day of learning as well as fun.

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Clear Creek Missionary Baptist Church minister Chris D. Jones organized their second Youth Explosion as an event for her non-profit organization Sister, SOAR (Success Over Adversity Redeemed) Inc., which she founded back in 2017. Every year, the non-profit has held a free Christmas party for tweens and teens

Sister, SOAR is a mentorship and rehabilitation program that empowers women and girls with the necessary skills to reenter school or the workplace.

“It’s something I’ve been doing all my life,” said Jones. “I just finally gave it a name because I was at one of the lowest points in my life.” The minister stated that she had everything she could need and that all was well, but 2017 was a year where she met rock bottom.

“I was sitting there asking God, ‘What do I do next?'” she said. “He told me he was going to redeem everything that I had lost. ‘Everything that you lost, everything that you’ve been through, all your hurt. Everything.’ I didn’t quite believe him but he said, ‘You will soar above it.'”

Now, Jones and other local community leaders by offering volunteer hours for women in the penal system, paying for utility bills and childcare and providing help with standardized tests and resumes. The goal is to give women in need a fresh start.

While Youth Explosion is not solely focused on women, it’s still rooted in Sister, SOAR’s agenda of helping as many people as possible and creating a community for those who will need it the most.

Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church minister Denise Westbrook and her sorority Theta Phi Sigma Christian Sorority donated bicycles for the prize giveaways. Hoverboards and smaller prizes were given out to the children as well.

According to Westbrook, SOAR allows them to have an impact on children’s lives through events like Youth Explosion. Children can receive bikes and hoverboards as gifts but they can also learn that they have people to go to for help.

“I joined SOAR because the ministry was so impactful and it meant something to me,” Westbrook said. “I grew up in foster care,” said Westbrook. “So being a kid who did not have much and having children, I don’t want children to grow up without anything. I’m blessed as a pastor, so I try to do as much as I can to help.”

The Oxford Police Department, the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department and Oxford Fire Department briefly spoke to the children about how they provide for the community and how all three departments try to establish connections in order to serve citizens better.

As the highlight, University of Mississippi student and entrepreneur Jhalen Wells was brought in as a motivational speaker. Wells was someone who struggled with mental wellness as a child to the point where he attempted suicide at 12 years old. Now a 19 years old marketing major at Ole Miss with his own fashion business, Wells wants to bring some hope to other children who may be struggling.

“I came to talk about how I got to this point in my life because it hasn’t always been and still isn’t all peaches and cream,” he said. “Through everything I’ve gone through from my childhood until now, it’s been for a reason and I wanted to talk to the kids from that perspective.”

According to the Ole Miss student, knowing how to talk about your problems and how to reach out to loved ones is the best thing for a child to learn at an early age.

“We’re fishing for our youth, so we had a youth explosion,” said Rodney Dean, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church. “We’re going to use this time to bring our kids back and also use this time to give back to the community. We’re letting our kids know we’re thinking about them, we do see them and we love them.”

For more information about Sister, SOAR, Inc. or to donate to the non-profit organization, visit www.sistersoar.org.