Between slices of pizza and lighthearted jokes, the members of the non-profit group Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids, or SPEAK, discussed future events at the West Winona Street home of founder and president Jeff Templeton.

SPEAK is the brainchild of Templeton who started the group with Aaron Mason, 33, of West Oak Lane and Chris Moore, 55, of Mt. Airy.

Templeton started a website in 2007 and sold shirts labeled with "Don't Let Me See You Do It," in response to the growing trend of "Stop Snitching" T-shirts.

He then wanted to focus his attention on educating children about peer pressure and other issues that affect Philadelphia's teens.

"It's one thing talking to adults, but it's another talking to children," said Templeton, of Germantown. "It was my idea to create some type of presentation where we can grasp a younger audience. In my view, it's hard to get the attention of children once they've already reached high school."

Ideas put into action

Templeton and his wife Adrian bought a laptop and projector, which they used to create a PowerPoint presentation designed to teach kids between the ages 12 and 14 about the dangers of peer pressure.

After a year of planning, SPEAK debuted its program to schoolchildren and incorporated skits to deal with a number of topics.

SPEAK's presentations teach children why they shouldn't sag their pants, how to prepare for a job interview, how to say no to smoking, drinking and drug use, how to deal with bullying and the disadvantages of teenage pregnancy.

SPEAK has presented its program to 10 schools in the Philadelphia area and, so far, it has been a hit with students.

"Everywhere we go, kids just really take to it," Mason said. "The way we look at it, even if we only reach one person, it's a success because you're affecting somebody's life."

Making a difference

SPEAK members emphasized the importance of having a positive impact and helping to be a part of the solution.

"I remember this one little girl who came up to us after the presentation and said her whole family had kids before the age of 17," Mason said. "She said all she wanted to do was break the cycle. When I heard her say that, it completely made my day."

SPEAK hopes that providing students with this free program will be easier in the future. Teachers, administrators and parents can be the biggest obstacles because the program deals with issues that are sometimes uncomfortable.

"We try to reach the kids who are not getting this at home," Moore said. "The biggest challenge can be the parents because a lot of parents don't want you telling their kids what they aren't telling them."

Recently, SPEAK teamed up with the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia to provide cooking classes to children. The lessons focus on fire prevention, food safety and healthy cooking.

"We actually have real restaurant owners scheduled to come in and teach these kids simple meals to deter them from going to a fast-food dollar menu, because we know how enticing it can be," Templeton said.

Upcoming event

SPEAK's next event is the Helping Hands blanket, clothing and food drive, which will be held alongside the Free Masons of Pennsylvania fraternal organization of which Templeton is a part.

"We started the blanket drive a few years ago as not only a way to help the homeless but to get teenagers back into a positive spotlight," Templeton said.

"The kids get a chance to walk up to life's front door and see how hard life can be on anyone," he continued. "On the flip side of that, it gave us a chance to meet the homeless and have a really good conversation. Many of these guys were veterans."

Cruz Rivera, 50, a SPEAK member from North Philadelphia, is helping to organize the Helping Hands drive, which will be held Nov. 18 in LOVE Park.

"I see where the program can really develop and improve, but you have to have that vision and zeal for it," Rivera said. "You really never know what your needs are until you're truly in need."

SPEAK is currently seeking volunteers for the event and encouraged anyone interested in doing so to check its website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. SPEAK also provides its own hotline at (215) 254-5157.

Fatia Kasumu and Zach Martin are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.