By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
NEWTON—Newton High School students busied themselves last Thursday night. They shopped for Christmas stockings, cut out pine trees from cardboard, added “snow” in the form of batting and set out bright Christmas lights in windows at a couple locations in downtown Newton.
Many of the students are members of STAND, a group affiliated with Mirror, Inc. They were a group that volunteered to decorate some storefronts that might not have gotten decorated, otherwise, for the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Deck Downtown, a storefront decorating contest.
“STAND is all about serving our community,” said Benjamin Meier, youth leadership program manager with Mirror, Inc. “Giving youth an active role in their community builds in protection for them and during this time, what’s better than spreading some much needed positivity? When we saw the Deck Downtown activity through the Chamber, we knew we wanted to participate in spreading a little Christmas cheer.”
Meier said the Chamber wanted to spread Christmas cheer through businesses, especially downtown, so they created the contest.
“We thought this would be great to participate in, so we asked Rachael at the Chamber if they had any businesses that needed help, since we don’t have a window downtown,” Meier said. “We were able to partner with Prairy and Randy Hague to get three windows to decorate.”
Meier said STAND is not an acronym.
“It simply means standing up for what’s right, standing up for your peers and standing up for healthy choices for all,” Meier said.
STAND is a Mirror, Inc., program with youth teams in six high schools, including all five districts in Harvey County. Members become active leaders in their communities and schools through positive activities, Meier said.
“STAND youth encourage their peers to make healthy choices, including avoiding substance use, by standing up as positive role models with their own choices,” Meier said. “They promote positive mental health through various campaigns throughout the year and they serve their community, looking to fill needs in any way that we are able.”
Once a month, 30 representatives from each school team meet for the STAND regional board, where they give input and lead the direction of the program.
With all six schools combined, STAND has more than 100 youth involved in creating a healthy and positive culture for young people, Meier said.
“STAND was officially established in 2017, becoming official or unofficial clubs in the schools the following year,” he said. “Throughout COVID, STAND members have focused on filling needs and promoting positivity, especially as it has become more and more difficult to get together.”
Regarding STAND decorating windows, Meier said the students were 100 percent a part of deciding on the decorations and themes.
“Through some early meetings, there were ideas of STAND’s living room and then sort of a festive, brightly colored Christmas window,” he said. “To make sure that we had some creative brains behind the process, we partnered with NHS’s art club and engaged two members of the art club to help us. They completely built the fireplace in the Santa window out of cardboard and were a huge help in creating the windows.”
STAND is doing other things this holiday pandemic season.
“STAND is really getting creative throughout this pandemic,” Meier said. “We are focusing on not stopping positive influence and promotion of mental health, even if we have to figure out how to do it from our own homes.”
They have several projects in the works, as the team in Hesston put together Finals Week care packages containing positive messages for all 250 high schoolers.
“We had planned to do a ‘float’ at the Parade of Lights, but as that is cancelled,” Meier said. “We are excited to have been able to decorate. The Peabody team is working to be able to help out the food pantry in their town this holiday season. We have several other projects in the works, but things take a little bit longer with the current restrictions.”
Mirror created STAND as a way to build protection with youth. In substance-abuse prevention, Meier said, they tend to focus on lowering risk factors, but with STAND’s unique evidence-based structure, students are given leadership roles and are involved in helping make their communities better.
“Building in these protective factors help buffer youth from risk in huge ways,” Meier said. “We are working on creating active and empowered youth. The old saying, ‘youth are our future’ is absolutely true, so what better way to build up our future than investing in youth right now where they’re at?”
Meier said another example of this is the Harvey County Drug Free Youth Coalition’s project in December, which is focused on neighborhood attachment.
“We know that getting to know your neighbors and youth having attachment to others in their neighborhood helps to prevent lots of unhealthy behaviors and decisions,” Meier said.
One doesn’t necessarily need to be in a Harvey County school to join STAND.
“We currently have a few students in our different teams or the board who are community members, who don’t attend the schools that we have clubs in,” Meier said. “We would love to find ways to have anyone and everyone that would want to be involved, involved in STAND.”
Regarding the holiday window decorating, Meier said it’s definitely something that was needed right now.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback from STAND youth that with all of the constant changes and cancellations this year, nothing is fun and there’s just nothing to look forward to,” Meier said. “If STAND can be a little bit of a bright spot in these kids’ lives and in the community in general, we are going to do it in any way we can.”
Voting for this year’s “Deck Downtown” window decorating contest is open. Go to the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/205056157780335 to see the list of participants. Visit each store to pick the one that you think is best decorated and find your favorite on the Chamber event page and “like” to vote. People also can call the Chamber office at (316) 283-2560 to place a vote for your favorite. Please only vote for one store. Voting is open through Dec. 17 and the winners will be announced at Chamber breakfast and posted on Facebook, shortly after.