Youth Rally

Whitney Collins and Shanae Leary discuss The Impact Christian Center's Youth Rally at John Nettles Park in Anniston. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

An Anniston church held a youth rally Saturday afternoon at John Nettles Park in response to what members say are growing issues around young people’s mental health.

Pastor Brondon Collins Sr., who founded the Impact Christian Center, which holds services out of his apartment on Darden Drive, said he recently noticed social media posts from young people that made him concerned.

“Last week, there were so many young folks reaching out for help and nobody encouraging them,” Collins said. “We took it upon ourselves to do this event. We want to bring our city back. We don’t want no fame. We’re doing this from the heart because we love our young folks.”

Collins said news of a murder-suicide late last month in Ohatchee also pushed him towards hosting an event.

Guest speaker and counselor Jenniffer Maybeth-Barrios, who came from her home in Virginia for the event, said her heart “tore” in response to the news.

“There are so many cases, just nationally, where so many people are taking their lives at such a young age and thinking there’s no hope,” Barrios said.

Collins’ sister, Shanae Leary, who helped coordinate the event, said the event offered stations for counseling and prayer in addition to food, games and music.

“Why not have them come to the park and have fun, get counseling, learn about mental health?” Leary said. “If they have suicidal thoughts, depression, anything that they’re battling… Bring your problems here.”

Having struggled with mental health issues in her teenage years, Barrios said, she has seen how they can be overcome.

“So many children think there’s no hope, there’s no avenue,” Barrios said. “This is to show them that they do have a voice that they do have a purpose, and they’re never too young to find out those purposes.”

At around 1 p.m., about a dozen kids appeared to be at the event. By the end, Leary said, the church expected up to 75 to attend.

“Even if we help one person, that means we’ve done our job,” Leary said.

Because many people don’t attend church, Leary said, the event was a way for the church to reach out.

“This is another way to be outside the church and to bring people in,” Leary said. “To let them know that if you don’t like church, if you feel judged in church, that’s okay. We’ll come to you.”

Contact Staff Writer Amalia Kortright at 256-235-3563.