VALDOSTA -- A local community outreach program working to build a sense of neighborhood in Valdosta is targeting the area's young people.

Saturday, Light and Power Outreach Community Services, Inc., sponsored its third annual Youth Extravaganza outside the All Nations Deliverance Center on Broad Street.

Activities included the Lowndes High School Step Team, the West Singers and a basketball tournament. There was also free food, and several booths were set up throughout to distribute information on the dangers of alcohol and drug use and teen-age violence.

More than 200 people participated in the all-day event.

Willie Flowers, president and chief executive officer of the non-profit organization, said he and his volunteers are concerned with making the community and its younger citizens better and stronger.

"We want to help them better themselves and become productive, young people in the community," Flowers said.

Research shows a diminished feeling of belonging often leads to risk-taking behaviors including drug or alcohol use or involvement in illegal activities that provide immediate financial gratification. Studies show that as connections between people disappear, community disintegration escalates, resulting in greater potential for crime, violence, and other negatives.

Flowers views his organization as a vehicle for creating positive social change on behalf of the area's teens.

Jessica Flowers, a recent Lowndes High School graduate and future Valdosta State University student, said the event is always "great."

"It's nice," she said. "Everyone comes together. I believe this day really makes a difference in the lives of those who participate."

Fellow Lowndes High graduate Jamon Staughter agrees.

"This event is a gathering of the area's young people," said Straughter, who plans to attend Valdosta Technical College in the fall and views himself as a role model. "It helps those who attend realize anything is possible."

Both Flowers and Straughter have participated in the event since its inception.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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