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Pastor Seeks To Create Safe Forum For Teens

With Mitchell at the Belmont Ridge presentation were two dozen high school students who have become Next Level 4 Teens leaders. They lined up on a stage to help Mitchell assure the audience that all teenagers, even those teased for being tech geeks or scorned for being skinny, are normal.

Those types of teens are welcome in his group, Mitchell said in an interview. He said one student told him that Next Level 4 Teens felt inclusive, like her church youth group minus the Bible -- a comment that Mitchell said showed his plan was working.

"It's kids who are smart, kids who are lonely, kids who can't connect, the popular kids," he said. "It's very diverse."

Over the next hour at Belmont Ridge, Mitchell and his helpers led students through workbooks that listed facts about bullying, the warning signs that someone is being bullied, and what can be done about it.

Then he had the audience members read aloud from a passage titled "Messages From Me to Me" ("I'm strong and capable," was one) and sign a pledge that they would not bully. Some students followed along eagerly. Others looked bored, as if they had heard it all before.

As if to reassure them, Mitchell told them he had a vision.

Sometime soon, he said, Next Level 4 Teens would be in every school. It would be so big that 10,000 teenagers would gather at Northern Virginia Community College to hear speakers and experts and "receive free stuff."

He paused.

"You're going to step right into this environment and everything is going to change," Mitchell said emphatically. "Let me repeat that." And he did.

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