Peer education program trains 'tomorrow's leaders'

July 01, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN- After spending six months learning about the profits of planning, the evils of drugs, and the pitfalls of promiscuity 14 Bethel Gardens community youth on Monday graduated from a peer education program that has helped them to see value in their futures.

Darnell Shaffer, Neighborhood Initiative Peer Education Program facilitator and Boys and Girls Club of Washington County unit director, said the graduates, ranging in age from 14 to 18, have shown major attitude adjustments from the time they started the state-funded program.

He said "Tomorrow's Leaders," a name given to the group by its participants, focused on teaching area teens about goals and life skills, substance abuse, sexuality and the steps teenagers need to take to become independent.


Shaffer described a situation in which the group had stopped at a convenience store to get themselves drinks, but noticed a disadvantaged man sitting out front. The students gave the man chips they had in the group's van and then each donated $1 to him.

"These kids are truly 'Tomorrow's Leaders,'" he said.

Program graduate RayLonda Nobles, 17, said she already had planned to become a social worker before entering the program, but now she knows how to get there.

A year ago Tyrone Wheeler may have gone to the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County once a week, but now he goes daily, finding it helps keep him out of trouble, he said.

Initially Wheeler, 15, signed up for the program because he heard that grant money would be spent to send him on field trips, but he said that after sitting through a few lectures on subjects like drug abuse and addiction he realized the program was more than just a few free rides.

"I thought I could better myself," he said.

Wheeler, who said he's never used drugs, said now he's even better prepared to turn down offers to use narcotics. He said by showing drug users the cold shoulder each time he's asked to use, he'll become "immune" to their inquiries, a system that has worked so far for the North Hagerstown High School student.

"Drugs affects your community and your family," Nobles said. "You can hurt a lot of people by making bad decisions."

Wheeler said that before he started the program he wanted to become a professional basketball player, but through the program he realized that goal was unrealistic and decided that he would instead pursue a career in computers, another interest of his.

Buck Browning, The Boys and Girls Club director of operations, said the peer education program was funded by a state grant in its first year, but was in jeopardy of losing funding for the second year until the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families directors applied for and received a $25,000 grant from Washington County Health Systems Inc. He said another state department then awarded $50,000 to the group to continue the program.

"We could not afford not allowing this program to continue," he said.

Shaffer said the program will pick back up again in September with Monday's graduates acting as facilitators.

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