Youth program seeks cash

A youth crime prevention program teaching youths to think about the consequences of their actions is looking for a continuation of funding from the Nanaimo school district.

Think First, run by the John Howard Society since 1995, has introduced its program to about 10,000 students.

The program focuses on Grade 6 students, but can be tailored to meet the needs of older students.

“The program is about youth prevention and social responsibility,” said Elissa Gray, program coordinator.

Think First teaches students about the criminal justice system, brings in guest speakers to share personal experiences, and allows students to ask questions and talk about their experiences.

According to post-program evaluations, 67 per cent of students felt the program helped them make good choices, said Gray.

“By far the most impact is when you have speakers with personal experiences and they’re sharing them,” said Gray. “The thing that really struck me was the feedback we receive from our students.”

Gray said the program has led to some revelations by students because it gets them talking about how decisions can have a lasting impact, and how there is no such thing as a “reset button” on their lives.

Geri Bemister, a recovering drug addict for the last 22 years and now a speaker with Think First, said she tries to give students a realistic picture of what she looked like and felt like at the time of her drug abuse.

She was sexually abused as a child, and when she turned to drugs, she also got into criminal activity.

“I had sores all over my body, I hadn’t slept in weeks,” she said. “Part of the reason I took the path I did was because I didn’t have anybody to talk to about what was happening at home.”

France Tellier, director of programs at John Howard Society, said the program was presented to 11 classes and 277 students between October and December 2006.

The program costs $13,500 to operate, with $8,000 coming from the United Way and $1,000 from Lantzville Rotary Club. The shortfall is covered by John Howard Society, and it’s asking the school board for $5,000 to fund the program next school year.

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