By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published August 7, 2008
Men, women and children crossing Baker Street on the north side of Centennial Olympic Park witnessed a unique sight Friday, July 18, as some 15 young women stood on the side of the road holding signs with encouraging messages.
Some passers-by took pictures, others stopped to stare and those driving by often gave a honk of support.
The event was a part of Summer SWARM, a month-long program for teenagers at Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain, focused on building faith during their time away from school.
Led by Claretian Father Jim Curran and Sue Balcom, the parish youth minister, SWARM combines talks, service projects and other activities to promote “self-discovery, self-esteem, unit cohesion, leadership, wholesome friendships and community service, as well as communication and intellectual curiosity,” according to the program’s Web site.
“Summer SWARM is meant to challenge the way these teens think about things,” said Balcom.
The young girls’ day began with community service at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, where they helped paint food collection barrels that will be placed at public sites in metro Atlanta and North Georgia for food donations.
Founded in 1979 the ACFB distributes nearly 2 million pounds of food and other donated grocery items to more than 800 nonprofit partner agencies in the state every month.
After their morning of service, the teens headed to Centennial Park for a picnic and then to display the signs they prepared beforehand.
Spreading out along Baker Street, between Centennial Park and the Georgia Aquarium, the girls held up their signs for all to see.
“Let your signs be your voice, ladies,” Balcom reminded the girls as they began.
Several people enjoying the hot Georgia summer day passed by and paused to take in messages such as “Attract positive things,” “See me, not my color,” and “Stop, drop and roll with love.”
The afternoon excursion was inspired by a song titled, “Be the Change You Want to See,” by Kat Edmonson. A music video for the song, which has been viewed by more than 68,000 people on YouTube, shows a stream of ordinary people of all ages each holding a homemade sign with a short message from their heart.
The week’s theme for SWARM was “Finding Your Voice,” and Balcom felt the silent statements were a unique way for the girls to make their voices heard.
Tanasha Williams, a 16-year-old parishioner at Corpus Christi, wrote, “Life isn’t a gift you ask for, but a gift you shouldn’t give away.”
“Life is important,” she said. “Everybody should just think about that before they do something they might regret.”
Other signs addressed topics like abortion, domestic violence and racism.
Chloe Onuoha, another 16-year-old from the Stone Mountain parish, created a sign to foster deep thought. Her sign read, “Detach the mind from the object.”
“Lately so many teens are so attached to material things,” said Onuoha when asked why she wanted to share that message. She feels that teens need to realize “there are more important things out there.”
The day at ACFB and Centennial Park was just one of the many activities that were planned throughout the month of July for Summer SWARM. The girls also listened to talks about public speaking, self-awareness and finances.
The boys SWARM program, led by Father Curran, took place in June and included similar topics and activities focused on faith and self-realization. SWARM began four years ago with a month-long program for boys. Those who wish to participate must submit an application, a letter of recommendation and an essay.
The program, which got its name from the various presentations and activities in which the teens participate, is funded entirely by donations from parishioners, family members and the community. Summer SWARM accepts up to 16 participants, from rising high school freshmen to seniors.
Father Curran and Lee Buechele, a parishioner at Corpus Christi, established the activities “to get younger teens off the couch and to energize, motivate and inspire them during the summer months.”
From the looks on the faces of the girls, the program is doing just that. This summer was only the second year for the girls program, but the enthusiasm and passion could definitely be seen.
“We can make the change,” said 15-year-old Amaka Ezechukwu encouragingly.