PHOTO: Members and officers of the WiseUp TAG (Teenage Advocacy Group) of the WeForum organization at a planning meeting this past February with their advisors. (Left to right) (standing): advisor Jennifer Borenius Lyle Lulu, Noelle LeLand, Anna McCarthy, Olivia Rogers, Lily Thygeson, Gabriella Pia, Lexi Samuels, Ellie Bowen, Charlie Rosen. Left to right (Seated) Sydney Kaiman, Grace Saad, Olivia Rehder, and advisor Heather Kaiman.
Little Silver: Teenagers from three area schools have been meeting regularly and staging events to promote their message of teenage health and environmental sustainability as a youth group of the WEForum community organization. Under the banner of WiseUp TAG (Teenage Advocacy Group) girls from Rumson Fair Haven, Red Bank Regional and Red Bank Catholic have presented their message at Long Branch elementary school program, and at Monmouth University’s Wellness Day for over 1,500 middle school students. They are currently developing social media sites to further broadcast their message to their peers.
WiseUp TAG president and RFH junior Sydney Kaiman always had a passion for the issues that WEForum emphasis, particular health, fitness and the environment.
She states, “I learned that if you want things to change you must push to make those changes happen because they won’t always happen on their own. I feel that it was important to get the younger generation involved. We created the TAG group with the idea that if we can not only educate the next generation, but give them the tools to teach those that will follow them, then real change can take place.”
RBC Junior Samantha Kelly explains that it is the girls’ intention to inspire other teens.
She states, “Our motto is ‘TAG you’re it!’ and we intend to grow this group to include other schools by inspiring other young individuals to become representatives to their schools.”
One of the things the girls hope to change is the wasteful use of plastic bottles that litter our landfills and never degrade.
They set out to speak to middle school children at Long Branch Middle School this past November at the special health and wellness program in conjunction with the annual event, “Got Dirt?-- Where does your Food Come From,” which featured Ron Finley, the gangster gardener from South Central L.A and boasted a full day of nutrition education and programming.
RBR junior Lily Thygeson of Little Silver, comments on that event, “We used the “Four R;s” as an easy tool for them to remember our message; that is, REFUSE to use single-use plastics; REUSE water bottles; REDUCE the use of plastics, and as a last resort RECYCLE your used plastics.”
Lily adds, “I am confident that every single sixth grader was engaged and learned something new.”
The group went on to bring their message to a much larger forum. This past January, they participated in Monmouth University’s Wellness Day, when 1,500 middle school girls were invited to an all-day event which culminated in watching the Hawk’s Women’s Basketball Game. It was during half time that the WiseUp teens dressed up as super heroes to proclaim their empowering program. There they combined their sustainability message of the Four Rs with that of wellness by encouraging the attendants to stop consuming the sugary drinks that are usually sold in those plastic bottles, the contents of which are a major contributor to the youth obesity and various health problems.
The students have also been active in visiting their town’s environmental councils, particularly in Little Silver, to push the banning of plastic bags from area businesses. Jennifer Borenius, a resident of Little Silver, who mentors the TAG group along with Heather Kaiman, Fair Haven, has been a huge advocate for plastic bag ban ordinances presenting at many towns around the Jersey Shore. She advises the students that their efforts will eventually pay off as 25 towns in New Jersey have already instituted such bans on plastic bags and there is so much good advocacy to work to do!
In the coming months, the girls are hoping to support some of the other pillars of the WeForum message including participation in the WEForum Fit Crawl planned for Saturday, April 13. The girls are also busy hatching up other projects they can promote to affect generational change.
Sydney Kaiman states, “Before I graduate I’d like to see us start an initiative to eliminate plastic water bottles from the high school athletic fields. Hydration is one of the key pillars of the WeForum message and working with sports programs is a great way to set an example for others.” The WiseUp team is currently working with the spring sports programs in each of their schools to create this reality.
Jennifer Borenius comments, “The youth of this generation has been given open access to information, has been empowered by the reach of technology, and possess the fundamental belief that anything is possible. We know they will be the ones who can affect the most positive change for our future. I believe in this powered group of young women, and the mentoring provided is imperative to help provide guidance and structure. We hope that working with the WiseUp group can truly harness this power for social change and good."
WEForum was founded by Rumson resident Carolyn DeSena, its Executive Director. She states, “WeForum aims to strengthen the health and wellness of communities by educating and empowering individuals to take charge of their health care choices. We partner with organizations to promote a culture of healthy living by raising awareness through community events and by raising funds to develop and support programs and services that are free and accessible to all.”