Scott County students organize youth leadership conference

Program cover for  Monday's youth leadership conference.
Program cover for Monday's youth leadership conference.

GEORGETOWN — Under ordinary circumstances, Donovan Norris, 18, would not be accepting calls during class. But few things have been normal for the Scott County High School senior during the past few weeks.

Donovan, his twin brother, Dominique, and a group of their classmates have spent months applying for grants, confirming venues and lining up speakers for a youth anti-violence conference that will be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His teachers have cut Donovan some slack and have allowed him to answer calls that are related to the conference.

Normally a teacher would just take his cell phone, Donovan said. But high school students usually don't start a school group and then attempt to plan a statewide conference, said their mother, Barbara Norris.

"It's has been a great big undertaking, and I think they've learned a lot, mostly about procrastination," she said with a laugh.

Donovan and Dominique founded SAVE-US, which stands for Students Against Violence Everywhere-United Society, at Scott County High School about two years ago. The group will hold a conference Monday at the Thomas & King Leadership and Conference Center at Georgetown College to educate Kentucky teenagers about violence.

Speakers will discuss an array of topics, including child abuse, teen dating violence and bullying. A three-act play, Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, will be followed by a discussion about driving safety. Breakfast and lunch will be served.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Hatim Omar, who runs an adolescent medical clinic at the University of Kentucky and a non-profit called Stop Youth Suicide, will discuss teen suicide prevention.

Scott County High School guidance counselor Julie Karcher, the sponsor for SAVE-US, said Monday's conference was the culmination of the group's mission to mobilize youth to end violence. SAVE-US has received grants and scholarships to fund the conference and the school club.

Donovan, president of the group, and Dominique, president emeritus, started the group after researching statistics about violence. The twins already were familiar with some issues because their mother is a domestic violence specialist in Lexington.

They wanted to educate others.

"It's kind of startling what people don't know," Donovan said.

The club became active in 2009 after Karcher agreed to sponsor the group. She said she was thrilled to do it.

"They are really strong leaders in our school, and I knew that the boys would be extremely active in the club," Karcher said.

The brothers said they would like all high school students to eventually start their own groups to end violence.

"Maybe they could get something done and stop a lot of things that are happening," Donovan said. The twins are optimistic that such inspiration could come from their conference.

"I think that if they come, they're not only going to have fun, they're going to learn a whole lot and they're going to be pretty surprised," Donovan said.

Fewer than 100 students had registered for the conference as of Wednesday. The deadline was extended to Friday, and Dominique said he expected more people to sign up.

Still, even after months of planning, the twins have some concerns.

"We're just praying that it will work out in the end," Donovan said.