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Teen-agers who tackle society's problems . Award winners helped feed the poor, saved lives, repaired housing

By Nancy HerndonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 29, 1987



Winston-Salem, N.C.

WHEN Billy Hanes began organizing a rock concert to benefit the Food Bank of northwest North Carolina last year, directors of the nonprofit food-distribution agency called him into their office and asked what adult was supervising his concert. Billy, who put up $400 of his own money to rent sound equipment and the Winston-Salem Convention Center, ran up a $98 phone bill soliciting 17 bands from up and down the East Coast, and netted a $1,900 profit for the Food Bank, had no adult supervisor.

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He is now the Food Bank's youngest director.

Billy is one of 53 teen-agers who have received Sea Breeze awards, sponsored by Clairol Inc., for showing ``the spirit of young America'' in trying to solve problems in their families, their communities, and the country as a whole. Each winner received $500 and a citation. Ten of the teen-agers will be honored at an awards reception on Capitol Hill in February.

Some winners, like Wayne Theurer of Houston, and Scott White of Lawton, Okla., showed heroism in an emergency and saved lives.

Others, like Beulah Spencer of Keams Canyon, Ariz., and Eric Tyrrell, of Rumney, N.H., took major responsibility in supporting their families financially and emotionally.

Many used imagination, energy, and compassion in tackling social problems that have baffled adults.

High school students might shrug off the goals of Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD), figured Kirsten Stellick, of Richfield, Minn., but few students would shrug if supporting SADD meant sending the school principal to jail for a night.

Principal Richard Maas didn't shrug either.

``He was shocked at first,'' Kirsten reports. ```Do I actually have to spend the night in jail?' was the first question he asked.''

Kirsten eventually persuaded both Mr. Maas and Richfield mayor John Hamilton to take part in a publicity stunt by going to jail if 90 percent of the students at Richfield Senior High signed a statement supporting SADD and the community donated $500. Both men went behind bars.

``It was more to get people to notice us than to get them to join,'' says Kirsten of the event, which got local television coverage. SADD followed up by publicizing alcohol treatment centers and successfully soliciting sponsorships to set up a Home Safe program, providing safe rides for drivers who drink too much and for their passengers.

Not all Sea Breeze winners attracted public attention. For five years, Jill Bender of Mansfield, Ohio, quietly raised money with her youth group at Ontario United Methodist Church and repaired houses on Johns Island, S.C. The church has sponsored this kind of work on the island for well over a decade.

Wooden houses rot quickly in the heat and humidity of Johns Island, with loose ends of tar paper curling off roofs, damp spots spreading in ceilings, and flakes of paint peeling off outer walls. In poorer communities, repair work is a constant need.

Last summer, as the smallest and lightest member of the group, Jill lay on her stomach on the steepest part of a roof, ripping off old tar paper, replacing rotten boards, and patching seams with tar while another teen-ager held her by the ankles.

As president of the youth group, Jill organized car washes and the manufacture and sale of candy and sandwiches to raise the $1,500 a year needed for building materials on the island.

Sea Breeze co-winners Robin Goldfaden of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and Liz Weiner of Montvale, N.J., tried to stop the problem of teen suicide in their high school.

The suicide awareness group they founded last year organized a three-day workshop to help students recognize suicidal behavior and know how to respond. This year they have formed a peer support group to try to help depressed teens in the school. The group is also speaking to freshmen and sophomore classes with the message that high school is survivable and that students care.

``A lot of what causes the depression that leads to suicide is loneliness,'' says Robin. ``We want our fellow students to know that whatever thing is bothering them they can come to us, and we'll listen.''

Two teen suicides in the last two years have put Pascack Hills school district in a high-risk category. In that affluent community, ``there's a lot of pressure to be as successful as the people around you,'' Robin notes.