August 8, 2002
A special picnic will be held Friday at Fort Ward Park. It will celebrate the accomplishments of a program with the goal of vanquishing one of life's most debilitating diseases — peer pressure.
Known as "Kids Are Terrific" (KAT), it is a prevention program sponsored by the City of Alexandria's Community Services Board in collaboration with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities. It conducts a five-week camp to teach children how to achieve self-esteem and interact with peers from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
"Normally we have about 140 to 150 kids in the program each year. They are drawn from the recreation centers throughout the city," said Robert Sizemore, prevention services counseling supervisor with the Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse (MHMRSA) Department.
There are three programs involved at each recreation center, according to Sizemore:
(1) Getting Away Clean. A peer-pressure-resistance program that teaches peer-pressure-reversal skills. How to say no without antagonizing anyone.
(2) Toward No Tobacco Use (TNT). It explains how tobacco industry advertising is geared toward youths in order to get children to start smoking young.
(3) A Nutrition Program. This introduces the participants to alternatives to junk food. It teaches them how to blend their diets to achieve good health.
PROGRAMS OPERATE Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. at the Patrick Henry, Mount Vernon, Charles Houston, Cora Kelly, Charles Barrett, Arlandria CO-OP and Ramsey recreation centers. It is open to students in the 8-12 age bracket.
An integral part of the program is the Peer Advisor Program, also sponsored by the Community Services Board through Substance Abuse Services.
"Peer advisers are students between the ages of 12 and 18, and are all volunteers," Sizemore explained. "They are required to participate in a six-week training course consisting of substance-abuse prevention and interpersonal communications skills," he said. Over the past five years, peer advisers have provided services to more than 5,000 Alexandria youths and adults, according to the program's history.
The program is overseen by Theodore Jones, James H. Moore and Debra Smalley, all MHMRSA counselors. They, in turn, are assisted by counselor aides. "The aides are actually on the city payroll and get a small stipend for their work. They are being trained to succeed us," Sizemore said.
BOTH THE KAT and Peer Advisors programs are geared to building self-reliance in youths from the African-American and Hispanic communities, according to the counselors. The entire program is paid for through funds provided to the city's Community Service Board.
KAT camps provide at-risk youths from low-income families with structured activities at no expense to the families. Programs conducted under KAT, in addition to the one-day-a-week camp, are peer-pressure-reversal skills, nutritional sessions, structured recreational/educational field trips, and hands-on photography activities.
The Peer Advisors Program, conducted at the Charles Houston Community Center, also under the aegis of the Community Services Board, requires that each youth complete a six-week training course consisting of substance-abuse-prevention and peer-pressure-resistance skills.
The components of this program are skills in handling negative peer pressure, Red Cross HIV/AIDS information and training, after-school tutoring programs, annual Close-Up Foundation's youth conference, cultural enrichment service to senior citizens at the Charles Houston Community Center and participation in the KAT summer recreation programs.
PEER ADVISERS act as leaders to KAT participants. This provides them with a stepping stone to the counselor program.
At the conclusion of camp on Aug. 9, the children and their parents will be treated to a picnic at Fort Ward Park. "At that time 30 kids, five peer advisers and five adult mentors will be named to enjoy a three-day, two-night trip to Williamsburg Busch Gardens," Sizemore said.
Recipients of the trip award are selected from those participants in the camp who have shown the most progress. "Usually there are kids from each of the centers selected. This encourages other kids behind them to participate," Sizemore said.