Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

Half a dozen or so members of the Salisbury Youth Council gathered at City Park after school Tuesday.
Soon, elementary and middle school students lugging backpacks and instruments began trickling in for the Mini Funk Factory band’s practice.
Some of the newcomers made their way directly to the gym, set down their things and started a pick-up basketball game with council member Quson Brown.
Quson had a definite height advantage, but the younger students played with gusto. As more students walked in, he was quick to involve them. When he asked two little girls if they wanted to play too, they broke into smiles, dropped their instruments and joined in the fun.
Other students headed to the back room where the rest of the council members were congregated. They quickly paired up with a high schooler or two and began pulling textbooks, notebooks and agendas out of their backpacks.
Da’Mia Jackson, a fourth-grader at Overton Elementary School, sat down next to Lily Jackson, a sophomore at Salisbury High School, with a worksheet on triangles.
“Do you know your different types of triangles?” Lily asked.
As the pair talked their way through the assignment, Lily asked Da’Mia questions about acute, obtuse and right angles, helping her identify them as they went along.
Christian Burns, an eighth-grader at Knox Middle School, pulled out his advanced math textbook. When youth council members saw the difficulty level of his homework, several of them joked that it was harder than they could handle, but youth council President Abraham Post quickly offered to help. Abraham is a junior at Salisbury High School.
Alexandra Warren, also a junior at Salisbury High, sat with Danaesha Jackson as she worked on her spelling homework. Danaesha is a third-grader at Overton and says that she likes doing spelling homework.
A few minutes later, Lily and Quson partnered up with Jeremiah Booker, a Knollwood fourth-grader, on his reading homework. They set a 10-page goal, and Jeremiah began reading his book aloud to them.
Abraham said there were fewer students than normal who needed help with their assignments that particular day.
“Some days bring more work than others,” he said.
As several students continued to work, however, the rest of them began band practice.
Both the Mini Funk Factory and Salisbury Youth Council are groups focused on developing local students, but they are geared at young people in different stages of life.
The Salisbury Youth Council is a civic organization made up of 18 high school students who live within Salisbury city limits. They are involved in community outreach and advise Salisbury City Council on matters that affect the city’s youth.
Youth Council members are expected to regularly attend meetings and projects. They meet the first and third Friday of each month throughout the academic school year. Beyond their regular meetings, the council also meets to work on service projects and community programs throughout the year.
The Mini Funk Factory marching band initially started as a drum circle at Overton Elementary School in November 2010. That drum circle swelled into a drumline, and quickly became a full marching band.
The program expanded to include the entire Rowan-Salisbury School System, then became an independent program when its director, Anthony Johnson, began a new teaching position with Cabarrus County Schools.
The band gives kids somewhere to go and something to do after school.
The two groups, however different they may be, share a very special relationship.
The Salisbury Youth Council’s purpose is to be involved in the community, members said.
They’re always discussing their passions and looking for tangible ways to make a difference. This year they decided to focus on youth literacy.
“Our main focus is to improve literacy in Salisbury,” Abraham said.
“We chose literacy because it’s probably one of the biggest problems with our youth right now,” said Salisbury High School sophomore and Youth Council member Grace Yatawara.
Earlier this year, Johnson approached the council about working with the Mini Funk Factory.
Abraham said after talking to Johnson, the council felt working with the band “aligned perfectly with our goals.”
The Salisbury Youth Council began their tutoring sessions in October. They meet with students before band practice Tuesdays and Thursdays every other week.
“They’re very interested in learning,” Abraham said. “It feels really good to help them do it.”
Grace said she enjoys helping younger students excel.
Youth council members aren’t just helping out with homework, however. The tutoring sessions allow them the opportunity to get to know the children, build relationships with them and serve as unofficial mentors.
Johnson said the mission of the Mini Funk Factory is to inspire kids through music.
Mentoring and tutoring are a part of that, he added.
It’s most obvious that the tutoring is making a big difference “when report cards come out and the kids are real proud,” he said, stressing that academics come first.
The Youth Council’s approach to tackling the issue of literacy is two-pronged.
In addition to taking a hands-on approach by tutoring, they also wanted to promote literacy beyond their bi-weekly session by providing books for kids who may not have age-appropriate materials to read at home.
The decision was made to buy books for the students and to hold a book drive to provide even more books.
The youth council is gathering books geared toward students between the ages of 5 and 13 years old. Donations can be dropped off at Swirl it Up, Salisbury Academy, Queen’s, Innes Street Drug, Bangkok Downtown, the West and East Innes Animal Hospitals, North Hills Christian School, Piedmont Eye Physicians, Washko Dentistry, city offices, the civic center, City Park and the YMCA.
Sarah Tran, a Youth Council member, said she hopes the group’s efforts will not only help promote literacy, but will also produce more students who are engaged and investing in the community.