PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – A Peoria mentoring program for inner-city youth is honoring its young participants for the year.
“TSO” chants filled the city’s Johnson’s Center’s gymnasium Wednesday evening. The voices, the steppers, and the dancers were all products of the program Teens Speaking Out/Teens Stepping Out (TSO).
The program’s co-founder Diane Hines said TSO aims to enrich the lives of inner-city youth. She said the program, which started in 2011, offered dancing, grooming, mechanics, basketball, and more.
“Some of the youth are not as fortunate as other youth and don’t get to participate in other activities,” Hines said. “I was raised in the Harrison Homes Apartments, I didn’t get a chance to do a lot. So, I said when it became my turn to give back to the community, I would get young people and just show them everything that I could show them, everything that I can show them.”
Hines said she’s trying to show young people in the city there is a way out of negativity and uses positive ways of expression such as dancing, stepping, and educational trips to do so.
“That is so special and dear to my heart,” Hine said.
She said Wednesday’s annual award ceremony was a culmination of the youth’s hard work and was the day to honor them for their yearly participation. She said they were giving out more than 90 awards and trophies to the program’s 55 dancers, 45 steppers, and parent staff.
Hines also gave an encouraging message to those looking to join.
“There is an outlet if you have anything that you want to do,” Hines said. “You can come and be a part of TSO and the Explosive Gems [Majorette Dance team]. We’ll love you, we’ll help you develop whatever your talent is.”
The ceremony also brought out Victor Solomon, a former member of TSO, who just received national attention for his time on the singing competition show The Voice. Hines said it touched her to see former members like Solomon return and support the program’s current group.
“It was great to see Ms. Diane still pushing and still encouraging students,” Solomon said. “Still inspiring students and giving them a platform to just express themselves in however artistic way they please. It’s just a blessing that it’s still running.”
Solomon said programs like TSO are crucial to support creativity in youth development.
“It gives them a platform to truly be who they are and just as performers and just cooks something up inside that they can always deliver when they’re older,” Solomon said.