Student-Organized Program Aims To Reach Peers

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BERLIN — Sometimes, in order to understand a high school student you need to be a high school student. At least that’s the approach Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) rising senior Calvin Garrison is taking with his “Acts of Kindness” program.

“It’s really an outlet for students to come visit if they need someone to talk to,” said Garrison, who founded the program during the 2011-2012 school year, in addition to participating in eight other clubs.

Beginning with a handful of kids but quickly shooting up to the current 28 members, the program focuses on addressing common trouble areas in teenager’s lives, including bullying, drugs, alcohol and suicide prevention.

“Our slogan is, ‘If we can reach one, we can teach a thousand,’” Garrison said.

While it takes a multi-tiered approach to addressing teen issues, including the construction of an anti-bullying paper chain, which all school staff, faculty and students are encouraged to sign and “Real Life, Real Talk” counseling workshops, Garrison explained that the basic aim of the group is to always present troubled students with the option of getting help directly from peers.

“They’ll come to me before a guidance counselor,” he said.

Garrison was quick to praise the counselors at SDHS and had nothing but positive things to say about their efforts. However, with only a handful of counselors and more than 1,500 students, he said the program provides a much needed peer-advocacy service. That becomes even more important for students who might feel uncomfortable talking to an adult but are able to relate their problems easily to someone their own age, Garrison added.

“We’re trying to make them open up,” he said.  

Going into their second year, Garrison revealed he is looking to draw in more resources from outside of SDHS in the community. Resources include the Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS), which Director of Development and Donor Relations Stefanie Gordy said is great news for her organization.

“We believe in meeting people where they are,” said Gordy, who pointed out that having the program on the front lines among students allows meaningful peer-on-peer interaction.

WYFCS will be looking to extend services and community resources in co-operation with Acts and, more importantly, will help them find other partnerships within the community, according to Gordy.

“It’s just such a great, innovative approach to solving problems,” she said.

The thing that WYFCS is most impressed with, she added, is that the program is completely student run.

“That’s key that the kids are running it,” she said.

While there are seven adults who function as advisors to the group, Garrison confirmed they allow the students to orchestrate everything.

Despite the school being on hiatus until August, Garrison said he is still active and that any teens that need help over the summer should reach out to him.

“Our group runs non-stop,” he said.

Coming into the new school year and Acts’ second anniversary, the group has planned a large fundraising event for September. A combination three-on-three men’s basketball tournament, dubbed “Bounce Out Bullying,” as well as a family fun fair with kid’s activities, crafts and music will be hosted by SDHS on Sept. 15.

Boys 17-years-old and up are able to sign up, with the cost of $120 per team and a cash prize of $500 for the winning team. Admission for adults is $5, $3 for students and admission is free to anyone under 10-years-old. Registration ends Aug. 15 and proceeds from the event will benefit the Maryland Food Bank.

In the interest of getting more boys involved, Gordy and Garrison are challenging local community organizations and SDHS alumni to assembly teams (up to four players with an alternate) and sign up for the tournament. Gordy noted that even if the team doesn’t expect to win, the sign-up fee will still be going toward a great cause while having fun.

Besides the tournament and community partnerships, Garrison is anticipating a solid second year for the program, which will be hitting the road to visit other schools, membership is likely to increase by about 50 and the anti-bullying chain is expected to grow dramatically with the new class of freshmen. Currently circling the school’s courtyard twice, Garrison predicted that the paper chain will be long enough to wrap around the outside of the entire school within three years.

Though Garrison will be graduating after the 2012-2013 school year, he has no doubt the program will keeping growing in his absence.

“When I leave this year I know the group will continue on,” he said.

For more information about Acts of Kindness or the Bounce Out Bullying basketball tournament, contact Garrison at 443-493-0488 or calivingarrison8@gmail.com.

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