March 17, 2007 — Union Members in Action and Associates (UMAA) believes that work does not stop at five o'clock — nor is it limited to the confines of an office. Members have taken their work into the communities to help young men get on the right track through a series of discussions on their history, the importance of agriculture and controlling their emotions.
"One single word may change a child's life; they are all our business," said UMAA President Shamila Joseph. "Changing negative behavior in our youth is the main goal."
The initiative began when several members were having a discussion regarding the future of V.I. society, especially the fate of young men, when they decided to turn words into action and create the "Each One Teach One Youth Sessions."
"We need to save our youth before we lose them," Joseph said, her serious expression reflecting the importance of her task. "Some of these [young men] do not have future goals; they need to recognize their own value and that they can be whatever they choose to be."
The group recruited male role models from the community who donate their time, knowledge and experience and set up sessions in several open spaces around the island.
Sessions have been held at Buddhoe Park in Frederiksted, and plans are under way for additional sessions in mid-island and Christiansted.
Joseph, who is married and has two small children, said sometimes wanting to give back to the community doesn't require a budget, employees or an office. "Nature is right here – use it," she said. "It doesn't take much to spend time with our youth."
Among the speakers at the sessions are local historian Mario Moorhead, whose discussions center on the history of V.I. people; Kendal "Sego" Petersen, who talks about the importance of the land and agriculture; and "Felie," who speaks on negative and positive emotions and their consequences.
Other speakers have included retired Police Officer Renholdt "Rookie" Jackson and acting Chief of Police Winsbut McFarlande.
Joseph said McFarlande was impressed with the union members' commitment to youth. "He told us, if this saves just one youth from going to jail, it would be worth it."
Union members have sent out a call to the community for more males to get involved. "If you have a skill or profession you would like to share, or words of encouragement and inspiration, you are encouraged to contact the membership. The sessions are for two hours and usually scheduled on weekends.
Once the program completes this round of sessions, the union hopes to recommend the youth to mentors and established nonprofit organizations that will help to keep the participants in a healthy environment, Joseph said.
Joseph and her fellow union members are focused on the big picture. "This is not only for my children but for all the children in the community," Joseph said. "They said it takes a village to raise a child, and we all must be the enforcers to make sure our children are doing right all the time."
For more information or to volunteer as a male role model, call Joseph at 643-7599 or 692-5864.
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