Tazewell teen conference gives students VOICES

Christina Smith

For most high school students, going to school is just part of their daily routine.

Little did one Gibson City family realize how suddenly that could all change.

Tazewell County high school students heard Randy Arends of Gibson City and his son, Steve, share their story during yesterday’s Tazewell County Teens Unlimited Teen Conference at Illinois Central College in East Peoria.

Arends, the father of twins Greg and Steve, said his sons were seniors on their way to school five years ago, when Greg lost control of his car and hit a utility pole at 79 mph.

Greg Arends, 17, died instantly, and his brother, Steve, spent six months in a coma.

“(Steve) was told he would never walk or talk again. Through hard work and faith, he has been able to come back and is committed to talking with students about the choices they make,” Arends said.

Speeding, talking with friends or using a cell phone while driving can have serious consequences, Arends said.

“Greg knew cars inside and out, but once you lose control of a car, you can do nothing about it, or what happens,” Arends said.

“You can decide what happens from this day forward,” Steve said. “Speed kills. I am proof of the effects of that, secondhand. You guys are given so many chances to make a real difference in the lives of your peers."

Younger students look up to high school students, who should be an example for them to follow, Steve said, adding, “What you do when you drive are decisions that can alter people’s lives dramatically around you. Just be the example you want to be and make a difference.” 

Conference schedule

Sara Sparkman, who works for the Tazewell County Health Department, said members of the Tazewell County Youth Board start planning the annual Tazewell County Teens Unlimited Teen Conference in October.

Sparkman is the community projects manager for the health department.

This year’s theme for the high school program was “Keep your coins, we want change.”

Before hearing the Arends speak, students watched about a 40-minute video on the impact a person’s choices and actions can make in others lives.

After the keynote video and speaker, students from Washington Community High School, Morton High School, East Peoria Community High School, Pekin High School, Dee-Mack High School, Tremont High School and Midwest Central High School attended one of 15 workshops.

Sparkman said school officials decide which students will attend the event, since there is a limit on how many students from each school can attend.

Members of the youth board also presented a skit about recycling, relationships and some of the other topics covered in the workshops.

Sparkman said students registered for the three workshops they wanted ahead of time.

Some of the workshops included “He said, She said,” about how guys and girls communicate; “Streetwise Tips for Females,” taught by Sgt. Craig Hilliard of the Morton Police Department, which gave females the chance to practice getting out of dangerous situations.

Sparkman said 350 high school students were at ICC from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a separate program for 400 junior high students from 2 to 7 p.m.

“In early January, students and faculty from all Tazewell County junior high schools come to a meeting at the health department,” Sparkman said, adding, “During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, the students design their T-shirts and develop their workshop schedule.”

Sparkman said the junior high conference theme was “Give Me a High Five, Don’t Drink and Drive.”

Besides the health department, the Illinois Department of Human Services, Tazewell County Teen Initiative, Tazewell County School and State Farm Insurance also help sponsor the conference.

Student reactions

Although this was Emily Miller’s first time at the event, she said the keynote presentation was interesting and good, even though she already watched the “Voices” video at school.

“I feel like everyone should learn about this because it happens every day,” Miller, 15, a junior at MHS, said.

Megan Grove, 16, a junior at EPCHS, said she has been on the youth board since her freshman year.

“I really love (the conference),” Grove said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Grove added students learn about helping their friends out and the dangers of drugs and drinking.

“I hope everyone gets something good out of the conference,” Grove said.

For one Washington student, hearing about teenage crashes is a reminder of Evan Knoblauch’s death. Knoblauch, 18, died Jan. 5 in rural Woodford County while on his way to his grandmother’s house.

 “I think it’s good what they are doing, especially talking about teens dying in car crashes,” Nick Brunk, 17, a junior at WCHS, said.

Brunk said Knoblauch was a close friend of his.

For more information about the program, contact Sparkman at 925-5511, ext. 264.