July 9, 2003 – The 20 youths taking part in Camp Defy — that stands for Drug Education for Youth — were all ears as V.I. National Park ranger Golda Hermon told them about the history of St. John's Annaberg Plantation.
"And they cut their tongues out," she said, explaining the harsh treatment meted out to the plantations slaves by owners and overseers.
The St. Thomas and St. Croix youths from the territory's Weed and Seed Program were on a field trip held in conjunction with their five-day camp at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station at Lameshur Bay. The children and their 18 counselors and mentors arrived on Monday and will be there through Friday.
The camp is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Justice Department and the V.I. National Guard, Air National Guard, Police Department and Housing Authority, Zelda Williams, coordinator of the Bovoni Weed and Seed program on St. Thomas, said.
For most of the children, the camp is their first trip to VIERS. For some, it is their first visit to St. John
They are sleeping in the station's modest cabins, which St. Thomas resident Shamara Benjamin, 12, said are quite comfortable.
The young people are learning how to avoid destructive behavior such as using drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but they also have time in their day for lots of fun activities, exercising and eating nutritious food.
"The beach is the best part so far," Rasheed Heyliger, 12, of St. Thomas said.
But much of each day is devoted to more serious subjects. Topics include conflict resolution, goal setting, team building and decision making.
"I learned to listen to one another," Lyana Serieux, 10, of St. Croix said. She also said she has learned not to be shy or afraid.
Like her fellow campers, Lyana falls into the 9-to-12 age group that is considered most at risk for destructive behavior.
The youths will participate in a nine-month mentorship program to follow the camp. Their counselors are sure that the camp and the program will make a difference in the youngsters' futures.
"They will overcome whatever obstacles come their way," Denise Lewis, coordinator of St. Croix's Grove Place Weed and Seed Program, said.
Williams noted that the youths also are making new friendships that will "last far beyond the end of Camp Defy."
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