Freedom of expression: Backpack Journalism gives Guard youth a voice

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Story by Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 1/623rd Field Artillery UPAHR

Kentucky National Guard Family Program Backpack Journalist youth and instructors take a group photo at writing workshop in Lexington, Ky.

NOTE:  Each Wednesday kentuckyguard.com publishes stories by Kentucky National Guard unit public affairs historian representatives, also known as UPAHRs.  This is an additional duty taken on by a Soldier or Airmen with the intent of telling their unit’s story.  This is one such story ….

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 22, 2011) – Everyone has a voice. Some people just need a little coaching on how to use it.

More than 30 teenagers with parents in the Kentucky National Guard received special coaching May 20-22 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lexington, Ky., in an effort to help them find and develop their voice.

Using songs, photographs, cowboy poetry and stories, volunteers from the Texas-based Backpack Journalists, LLC provided attendees with creative and alternative ways to express their concerns and feelings of having a deployed loved one.

“The Kentucky National Guard recognizes the importance of our youth and their social and emotional development into adulthood,” said Capt. Bryan Combs, Family Programs director.

Kentucky National Guard youth share their poetry work at the state Family Program backpack journalist workshop in Lexington, Ky. Pictured from left to right are: Samuel Nein son of Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein, 198th MP Battalion; Morgan Coyle brother Jonathon Coyle, U.S. Marines; Roy Ashcraft son of Sgt. Jeremy Lyons, 233rd MP Company; Joan Ann Brown daughter of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Brown, Joint Force Headquarters. (Photo used by consent of, A Backpack Journalist)

“We encourage them to be creative, innovative and successful. The Backpack Journalist was the venue that provided a positive and lasting experience for each attendee.”

The staff combined distinctive training and innovative technologies in various forms of medium to teach the attendees how to tell their story. The weekend culminated with a final project in which the teens worked together as a team and showed it to their Families.

Combs, who was a teacher for 10 years, said he was amazed at how the Backpack Journalist staff kept the kids interested and committed to their final project – a presentation of music, poetry readings and video biographies from each child.

“Without question, I am confident that each of the youth attendees had a rewarding experience that won’t soon be forgotten,” he said.

For Cindy Culver and Linda Jones, youth coordinators, the event was just as rewarding for the parents and Family Programs volunteers as it was the youth in attendance.

“It’s not often that you view a class of teenagers and get to witness them open up with their feelings and emotions,” Jones said.

Culver agreed, and said it wasn’t just the children who opened up with their emotions.

“We all walked away with a life changing experience,” she said. “I had a wide range of emotions as I watched these youth. They had me laughing one minute and crying the next.”

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