By Mr. Kevin Stabinsky (IMCOM)March 19, 2010
FORT mcPHERSON, Ga. - High school can be a tough time for many children, a time when hormones kick in, peer pressure increases and thoughts arise about the fast-approaching future. As a result of these pressures, some students may give into temptations and engage in risky behavior, such as promiscuity, drugs, alcohol or dropping out of school.
To help steer students away from these negatives influences, Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem personnel have been reaching out to high schoolers through its YouthForce program.
The program partners role models from the military community with students in nine Atlanta city schools to mentor the students in areas such as leadership, life skills, responsibility and community service, said Irma Griffith-Steele, U.S. Army Garrison YouthForce program manager.
"It's part of our (the installations') community outreach efforts," Griffith-Steele said. "We let students know about the pitfalls of life and try to help them make better decisions."
The program is designed with the students in mind, catering learning to real-life issues, Griffith-Steele said.
These issues, which are taught over 24 lessons, include topics such as drug use, teen pregnancy, conflict resolution, sexually transmitted diseases, self-esteem and drunk driving.
Each of the nine schools has a group of three to five mentors who go to the school weekly to speak with students for 90 minutes, Griffith-Steele said. Classes range in size from 15 to 30 students, she added.
Handling the load is a group of 40 volunteers who choose what school they want to work at based on their availability, Griffith-Steele said. "These volunteers know what goes on in the community and want to give back," she said. "They want to give the kids positive role models."
For Capt. Jennie Choi, marine and terminal operations officer for Third Army/U.S. Army Central G-4, the program was a chance to make an impact. Choi, who mentors at Tri-Cities High School, said the opportunity allows her to help kids reach their potential, adding she was encouraged to volunteer.
"My direct supervisors thought it would be a good opportunity," she said. "They want us to take opportunities like this."
Griffith-Steele said she hopes more individuals take the chance to mentor.
"We're always looking for wonderful people to join our program," she said.
Volunteers are required to make at least two sessions a month. They are also required to attend two days of training.
Training includes learning to deal with students and how to use the YouthForce curriculum, Griffith-Steele said. Although slots for this school year are already full and new slots will not be created until the summer, Griffith-Steele said interested parties are encouraged to call now.
Male volunteers are especially encouraged to participate since a number of the children in the program come from homes without a positive male role model.
"This program works," Griffith-Steele said. "We see kids turn their lives around all the time."