Citywide sleep over kicks off school year - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Citywide sleep over kicks off school year

August 4, 2006

Albany -- Young people from across the region are at an Albany church tonight for a huge slumber party. The Solace program invites young people each year to the First Deliverance Cathedral to spend the night and hear a positive message.

The program helps kids get ready for a successful school year.

Solace was founded back in 2000, and it's an acronym that stands for Stretching Out Loving Arms and Creating Encouragement. More than 200 school-aged children came out for an educational, fun, and inspirational time.

"While I was incarcerated I rededicated my life back to the Lord," said Larry Stephens.

One person the young people got to meet is Albany poet Larry Stephens. He served ten years in prison before turning his life around, and now Stephens shares why his path isn't one to follow.

"I got involved with drugs and I was working, but still. And the drugs lead to the point that I didn't have enough money so I started commiting crimes, to support my habit," said Larry Stephens.

Drugs are a real-life issue the children say they face from peers at school.

"They make you do stuff that you don't want to, they ask you to do stuff, they offer drugs, just negative, not right," said Quijuan Willis.

But teaching what is right, is what leaders of the SOLACE program hope to share with the youth.

"We hate to see young people go to jail, get in trouble during the school year, go to detention or whatever. So we're trying to teach them to keep a positive outlook this year in school and be a role model themselves," said Michael Fowler.

That's why a story like Larry Stephens' is good for the children to hear.

"We can catch them now at an early age so they don't have to experience what I had to experience, or any other body that's incarcerated experienced," said Larry Stephens.

For 12-year-old Tata Watts, the program's message is crystal clear.

"When you grow up, you need to know how to do the right thing, you don't want to be in jail or nothing like that," said Tata Watts.

The Solace program aims to teach these children what's right and wrong at a young age, to shape them into successful adults.

The events for the Solace sleepover will continue until four oclock in the afternoon tommorow.

The children had a pizza party and got to meet and learn about some animals from Chehaw park tonight. Tomorrow they'll hear from firefighters, police officers, deputies, and paramedics.

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