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Program Promotes Dialogue, Literacy

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Children go to school to learn, but some of those lessons can be taught outside the classroom.

A program designed by local teenagers and sponsored by the Nashville Public Library is designed to inspire students to open up.

The TOTAL group organizes different activities for teenagers at local libraries. TOTAL stands for Totally Outstanding Teen Advocates for the Library.

A recent get-together, young people watched the motion picture "Simon Burch," which features a boy with stunted growth who feels God made him for a special purpose. The students also participated in an open discussion complete with drinks and a snack.

"Simon's disability is very pronounced and you can tell it, but I mean, that's just one type of disability, said Kahin Mohammed, a teen advocate. "I mean, you can have a disability where your disability is your family doesn't believe in you or you don't believe in yourself."

"The program today is about uplifting the teens. Removing a lot of negative things the teens are doing now, but this is something to encourage them," said TOTAL coordinator Monica McLaurine, "to let them know, everybody has a purpose."

McLaurine said today's youth have stresses that maybe their parents didn't.

"They're dealing with terrorism, locker searches, metal detectors and school gangs," she said. "Gangs have always been around, but it's really prevalent in this day and time.

"We're going to teach them that even though no one believes in you or where you come from, that you always have to have faith in yourself," Mohammed said. "If you really want to get something done the best person to do something for you is yourself."

"We want to let the kids know that no matter if you're small, you're different, wherever you came from, you can still do great things if you believe in yourself," said Katia Bass, a teen advocate.

"I've got a question for you: If you met Simon, do you think you would be nice to him or would you treat him differently?" Bass asked the group.

"I think when they see other teens come and talk to them, they kind of listen more because they're kind of like, ‘Okay, they kind of know what I'm going through, they're around my age,'" Bass said. "‘I can listen to them rather than having just all adults lecture them.'"

For many of these students, this was an after-school affair, so the questions and dialogue came easy.

"Do you think about getting involved in the community? Show your friends that you really want to do something?" Mohammed asked.

"Yes," answered several children enthusiastically.

TOTAL promote literacy and library services. TOTAL advocates volunteer in the library, working with librarians and others to do outreach in the community. For more information about TOTAL, call Monica McLaurine at 862-5804 ext. 5759 and monica.mclaurine@nashville.gov.

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