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Ministry provides healthy role models for at-risk teens

Ministry members participate in the Susan G.
Komen Race for the Cure in Jackson, Miss.

Video and photos by John Gordon.

A UMNS Report
By John Gordon*
July 8, 2009 | JACKSON, Miss.

Kashelia Harrion believes the best role models for teenage girls are much closer to home than hip-hop stars.

“The whole, you know, hip hop, flash, pop culture that is out there now, I think it is like a cancer in our community,” says Harrion, founder and coordinator of a mentoring ministry at Anderson United Methodist Church.

Teenage girls rehearse for the annual DIVAAS talent show at Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson, Miss.

“It’s hurting our young people, because they see these images and they think that is how I’m supposed to be,” she says.

Developing and Inspiring Virtue in the African-American Sisterhood, or DIVAAS for short, is in its third year. The ministry has 30 members, primarily serving at-risk youth from middle and high schools in the Jackson area.

Teens are surrounded by role models who can play an important part in their development, Harrion believes.

“They have them in their parents and their grandparents and teachers at school,” she says. “They have them in the people that they see at church. They just aren’t as drawn to those role models because, you know, the glam is not there.”

Harrion, 33, a college English teacher and member of Anderson United Methodist Church, tackles tough issues during weekly meetings. Topics include teen pregnancy, AIDS and preparing for school achievement tests.

“It seems like no time is being taken to really sit and talk and work through things and help young people to understand things and to really help them to get a sense of right and wrong,” Harrion says.

Ministry founder Kashelia Harrion leads
one of the weekly mentoring meetings.

Maya Kyles, 16, who joined the group when it started in 2006, appreciates the guidance.

“She’s very tough on us, but we know that she cares about us,” Kyles says.

She finds it easy to seek advice from Harrion and other volunteer mentors.

“I have a big problem sometimes expressing myself to my parents because I may think they might not want to listen to what I have to say,” Kyles says. “I can talk to one of the mentors about different things.”

The ministry also is active in the community. This year, members joined in a cancer walk and organized a talent show to raise money for scholarships.

“They have changed who I am as a person,” says Tulante Pickens, 14.

“Before I was in DIVAAS, I had a very bad attitude, was like not very open with people,” she explains. “When I got in DIVAAS, the attitude started fading away.”

President Christy McGowan, 15, says the program gives her confidence.

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“When I first started out, I was kind of shy and didn’t really want to talk to people,” McGowan says. “It’s like a family here. We all connect.”

Harrion hopes to expand the program to include college tours, academic tutoring and a chapter for boys. But she faces funding challenges.

The program received more than $40,000 in grant funding from the United Methodist Board of Discipleship for the first three years of operation, she says. Now, the group is seeking other grants and local sponsors to continue.

“The parents are doing their jobs at home,” she says. “It takes a village. And the DIVAAS ministry, we’re part of that village.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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