Church and community organizations step in to teach youth life skills

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

Do you remember an adult from your childhood who had a “kids these days” speech?
What would a speech on “adults these days” sound like?
Whether a single parent working alone to support a family, or a two-parent home in which both work, adults these days are stretched thin. In the scrap to make ends meet, social skills usually learned at home can fall through the cracks, but luckily, churches are stepping in as a resource to impart life skills to community youths.
Jimmy Godwin, youth director at Calvary Baptist Church in Booneville, is a jack of all trades.
In addition to his work with the youth, he works as district manager over seven Wendy’s restaurants in North Mississippi, and holds a third degree black belt in karate, which he has instructed for 25 years.
“I’ve had some of the youth kids talk to me about being bullied at school, and I’ve heard some of my high school-age employees talking about instances of bullying and thought ‘wow, this is a real problem,’” he said. “Teachers and parents see bullying lots of times as a rite of passage, but the facts themselves are pretty staggering.”
Godwin said millions of kids miss school each month to avoid bullying, causing their self–esteem and grades to suffer.
“Some people even shy away from class reunions because of someone who bullied them,” he said.
In talking to kids more about bullying, Godwin found that bullies aren’t always as obvious as the leather-clad, green-eyed villain in a coon skin cap from “A Christmas Story.”
“Cyber bullying is huge,” he said. “Facebook and texting take away the face-to-face confrontation. There’s also what’s called ‘indirect bullying,’ which means rumors and exclusion, and that makes it hard to put a face on the problem.”
Opening the door
When Godwin brought the idea of a self–defense class to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Tim Robbins thought it would be a great idea.
“I remember a guy from first grade who hit me in the stomach on the way home from school and took my nickel,” he said. “And I knew he’d be there again the next day, so the class is not so much about self defense as it is on how to remove yourself from a bullying situation, or diffuse it.”
Godwin will teach kids to recognize the difference between joking and bullying, as well as how to remain confident in the face of a bully. As a last resort, he will show them some defensive techniques control a physical altercation.
The class will also serve as a resource to parents, to open up lines of communication with their kids and to recognize the signs that their child is being bullied. He plans to bring in members of law enforcement and from the education system to talk to the kids and answer questions.
Robbins said it would be a win-win for the youth and the church.
“A lot of what kids are learning comes from their friends or school. Ultimately parents want a place they can trust to have a positive influence on their child,” he said. “Of course it’s the church’s responsibility to teach right from wrong, but hopefully, the parents will see we love their children enough to help take care of them.”
And maybe, just maybe, Robbins said the things they learn will rub off on the bullies themselves.
“Hopefully, the bully will see something he’ll want to know more about,” he said. “And our kids can open the door to share Christ somehow, some way.”
So Sophisticated
For young women, the American Family Association’s Christian Westbrook is offering an etiquette course. Largely sponsored by Urban Family Communications, a branch of the AFA dedicated to giving a voice to the urban community, Westbrook said the program will provide students with structure and positive mentors.
“We’ll cover how to properly introduce yourself, table manners, listening skills, telephone etiquette, and much more,” she said. “Hopefully they will demonstrate what they learn every day by how they communicate with their parents and friends.”
Westbrook cited a host of benefits to knowing such skills. A finer understanding of etiquette can make the difference in an interview for a job or scholarship, and practicing sound etiquette draws respect and shows it at the same time.
The four-week course will conclude with a luncheon where the girls will demonstrate their new skills. They will also take home a certificate to help remind them of what they learned.
“If they come to expect proper behavior from themselves, they will aspire to do something with their life,” she said. “The lady on the inside will be reflected on the outside.”
Westbrook said church participation was crucial for developing the total child.
“In the past, parents were much more set on their child’s success, but lots of adults today are just trying to make it themselves,” she said. “Especially around here, I would guess over 80 percent of children have grown up around a church setting, so the church has a huge influence and a community that supports it.”
Though the course will only last from July 2-27, Westbrook said the instructors intend to stay in touch with the students, continuing to be positive role models and resources for them.
“Strengthening these skills at an early age makes it all the more effective for young girls,” she said. “Hopefully, it will grow. I would love to do it quarterly.”

Local Lessons
CALVARY BAPTIST CHURCH IN BOONEVILLE’S ANTI-BULLYING CLASS is open to the public at no charge. They will be held each Wednesday through July 24 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the church’s fellowship hall.

CHRISTIAN WESTBROOK’S SO SOPHISTICATED ETIQUETTE COURSE will take place from July 2 to 27. Registration is $50 dollars, all proceeds will go toward funding the graduation luncheon at the end of the program. For more information, call (662) 205-6446

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