Area teens attend conference at Illinois Central College

Donelle Pardee Whiting

For most high school students, going to school is just part of their daily

routine.

Little did one Gibson City family realize how suddenly that could all change

Tazewell County high school students heard Randy Arends of Gibson City and

his son, Steve, share their story during the Tazewell County Teens Unlimited

Teen Conference March 11 at Illinois Central College in East Peoria.

Arends, the father of twins Greg and Steve, said his sons were seniors on

their way to school five years ago, when Greg lost control of his car and

hit a utility pole at 79 mph.

Greg Arends, 17, died instantly, and his brother, Steve, spent six months in

a coma.

“(Steve) was told he would never walk or talk again. Through hard work and

faith, he has been able to come back and is committed to talking with

students about the choices they make,” Arends said.

Speeding, talking with friends or using a cell phone while driving can have

serious consequences, Arends said.

“Greg knew cars inside and out, but once you lose control of a car, you can

do nothing about it, or what happens,” Arends said.

“You can decide what happens from this day forward,” Steve said. “Speed

kills. I am proof of the effects of that, second hand.

“You guys are given so many chances to make a real difference in the lives

of your peers,” Steve added.

Younger students look up to high school students, who should be an example

for them to follow, Steve said, adding, “What you do when you drive are

decisions that can alter people’s lives dramatically around you. Just be the

example you want to be and make a difference.”

Conference schedule

Sara Sparkman, who works for the Tazewell County Health Department, said

members of the Tazewell County Youth Board start planning the annual

Tazewell County Teens Unlimited Teen Conference in October or November.

Sparkman is the community projects manager for the health department.

This year’s theme for the high school program was “Keep your coins, we want

change.”

Before hearing the Arends speak, students watched about a 40-minute video on

the impact a person’s choices and actions can make in others lives.

After the keynote video and speaker, students from Washington Community High

School, Morton High School, East Peoria Community High School, Pekin High

School, Dee-Mack High School, Tremont High School and Midwest Central High

School attended one of 15 workshops.

Sparkman said school officials decide which students will attend the event,

since there is a limit on how many students from each school can attend.

Members of the youth board also presented a skit about recycling,

relationships and some of the other topics covered in the workshops.

Sparkman said students registered for the three workshops they wanted ahead

of time.

Some of the workshops included “He said, She said,” about how guys and girls

communicate; “Streetwise Tips for Females,” taught by Sgt. Craig Hilliard of

the Morton Police Department, which gave females the chance to practice

getting out of dangerous situations.

Sparkman said 350 high school students were at ICC from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,

with a separate program for 400 junior high students from 2 to 7 p.m.

“In early January, students and faculty from all Tazewell County junior high

schools come to a meeting at the health department,” Sparkman said, adding,

“During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, the students design their T-shirts

and develop their workshop schedule.”

Sparkman said the junior high conference theme was “Give Me a High Five,

Don’t Drink and Drive.”

Besides the health department, the Illinois Department of Human Services,

Tazewell County Teen Initiative, Tazewell County School and State Farm

Insurance also help sponsor the conference.

Student reactions

Although this was Emily Miller’s first time at the event, she said the

keynote presentation was interesting and good, even though she already

watched the “Voices” video at school.

“I feel like everyone should learn about this because it happens every day,”

Miller, 15, a junior at MHS, said.

Megan Grove, 16, a junior at EPCHS, said she has been on the youth board

since her freshman year.

“I really love (the conference),” Grove said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Grove added students learn about helping their friends out and the dangers

of drugs and drinking.

“I hope everyone gets something good out of the conference,” Grove said.

For one Washington student, hearing about teenage crashes is a reminder of

Evan Knoblauch’s death. Knoblauch, 18, died Jan. 5 in rural Woodford County

while on his way to his grandmother’s house.

“I think it’s good what they are doing, especially talking about teens

dying in car crashes,” Nick Brunk, 17, a junior at WCHS, said.

Brunk said Knoblauch was a close friend of his.

For more information about the program, contact Sparkman at 925-5511, ext.

264.