When Ewing native Summer Kellers learned about the children living in poverty just a few minutes away from her home, she wanted to do whatever she could to help.
Kellers, a Girl Scout in Troop No. 70637, decided to host a conference for teenagers that will highlight the struggles children living in poverty face daily. The “Change Begins With Understanding” conference will be held at 4 p.m. on Monday, April 10 at Villa Victoria Academy, 76 West Upper Ferry Road, Ewing.
Kellers is hosting the conference in an effort to achieve the Girl Scouts Gold Award, one of the highest honors in Girl Scouts.
“For the Gold Award, you’re supposed to make a difference in the community and it’s supposed to be impactful,” Kellers said. “I’m doing this conference to teach people something that they can keep with them the rest of their lives.”
Speakers at the conference include St. Francis Medical Center C.A.R.E.S Program Director Michele Czechowski and Jeffrey Brown, director of policy at the Trenton Health Team.
The C.A.R.E.S Program, which stands for Children Are Really Extra Special, provides schooling and support for kids with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Kellers said she has always been interested in psychology, and she originally wanted her Gold Award project to help children with mental health issues.
However, when she met with Czechowski, she discovered that poverty is often the bigger issue facing local children.
“I talked to [Czechowski] and she told me that sometimes they can’t even diagnose kids because they don’t have food or a mattress,” Kellers said. “I never really thought about that before, and these kids live 10 minutes away from me and they don’t a mattress and basic items.”
Keller said she was shocked when she first learned about the conditions some Mercer County children are living in, and she wanted to share this information with her peers and other teenagers.
“I think a lot of times teenagers focus on their own issues, and teens can be a bit dramatic and think that we have all the problems in the world,” she said. “I might be upset because I don’t go to my favorite place for dinner, and meanwhile kids don’t even have dinner for days.”
Kellers added that many teenagers don’t think about what other young people around them are facing. She hopes that once her peers are made aware of the struggles others face, they will be inspired to give back.
At the conference, people can sign up to volunteer with the Millhill Child & Family Development Center in Trenton on Thursday, April 13 for A Day of Caring. Volunteers will meet with preschool children and spend the day playing, reading and singing with them.
“Research shows that kids living in poverty have limited language skills when they start school,” Keller said. “By reading and playing with preschool kids, we are actually able to help reverse negative effects of living in poverty.”
In addition to the conference, Kellers is also raising money and school supplies to donate to the St. Francis Medical Center C.A.R.E.S Program.
Kellers first joined the Girl Scouts when she was in the second grade. While she admits she was first just in it for the cookies, as she got older she began to fully appreciate all that the scouts do to give back to the community.
“My whole thing is change begins with understanding,” she said. “And I think if you don’t recognize the issues in our community and try to help, nothing will change.”
For more information, or to register for the conference, email email@example.com.