August 18, 2005 Several years ago, one boy was caught with marijuana in school. He was failing in most of his classes. Today that boy gets good grades, is ready to graduate and is looking forward to college life.
Another boy was detained by the police along with a group of his friends. Instead of sending him to the Youth Rehabilitation Center, he was released into the custody of his parents. Today that boy has completed job-training classes, is more focused on his future and has distanced himself from his former clique.
These are only two of the success stories Jermaine Dennis, director of the St. Croix mentoring group, Boys to Men, loves to share. He said there are many more. Dennis said his group targets teens aged 12 to 18, providing them with emotional, social and educational counseling. "We are trying to be that step before YRC or the grave," Dennis said. The program was established in 2000 and hosts workshops and annual trips stateside.
From Aug. 22 to Aug. 26, Boys to Men is embarking on a new project a boot camp for troubled teens. The boot camp will be held in conjunction with the Virgin Islands National Guard at the National Guard Armory in Estate Bethlehem. During the five days, the young men will be housed at the armory. Speakers from the community and the National Guard will hold counseling sessions on respect for authority, attitudes and values, personality types, goal setting, career direction, drug prevention and team building. The group will complete a community project and participate in physical training. Dennis said the physical training aspect of the camp helps prepare the young men to handle the physical and mental stresses of everyday life. Dennis said 100 applicants from St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John have registered for the boot camp.
Boys to Men has been involved in the community hosting weekly seminars and counseling sessions with troubled teens and their frustrated parents. He said the best qualification he and his staff has is that they "put the needs of the young men before themselves." Once an adolescent is recommended to the group by his parent or guardian, the staff gets involved with almost every aspect of the teen's life. Dennis said he visits the youths' schools and conferences with teachers and conduct home visits. "We do both mentoring and parenting," Dennis said, adding that he has amassed a database of more than 150 youth.
The group has adopted the Elena Christian Junior High School and mentors young men there. Dennis said adopting the junior high school allowed them to focus on the "high-risk population," for a better impact of the program. He said that age group can be positively influenced; after that, "they have their minds made up" about what direction their life will go. "We try to teach the kids good habits, give them career direction and have them set attainable goals," he said.
Dennis said he has always felt the need to be there for the youth. "I used to coach baseball. I would be on the field with the kids for hours after work," Dennis said. Now it's a full-time profession. "I'm doing what I love."
For more information on Boys to Men or the Boot Camp, call Dennis at 778-1575 or 692-PREP.
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