Aug. 27, 2005 "You are here because someone cared about your welfare," Brig. Gen. Eddy Charles told the group of 107 Boys to Men boot camp attendees, adding, "You cared enough to complete the program and you gave it your all." Charles was speaking to the boys, ages 11 to 17, who were lined up military style in the National Guard Armory in Estate Bethlehem in Frederiksted.
The boys were recruited from St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix to be a part of the first boot camp organized by Boys to Men, a youth-mentoring program of the Speak the Word Ministries. They were housed at the National Guard facility for five days. Speakers from the community and the National Guard held counseling sessions on respect for authority, attitudes and values, personality types, goal setting, career direction, drug prevention and team building.
Charles said many of the boys experienced a "transformation that was not anticipated," during the boot camp.
Lt. Col. David C. Canegata III said the experience was "amazing." "Some of these boys were headed to incarceration; they have been turned around," Canegata said.
Judith Lewis-Figueroa was one of the many parents and friends who came to see their boys on the last day of the boot camp. Her three boys: Kurt, Bernard and Jélani, ages 16,14 and 10, participated in the camp. "I only have three sons and I don't want to lose them," Lewis-Figueroa said. The family lives in the John F. Kennedy housing community in Christiansted. Lewis-Figueroa says she "struggles hard" to keep her sons away from bad influences by enrolling them in sports and after-school activities.
Boys to Men Director Jermaine Dennis said the boys would be added to the program's database and follow-up phone calls will be made to check on their progress. The program has been involved in the community for almost five years and hosts weekly seminars and counseling sessions with troubled teens and their frustrated parents.
Speak the Word Ministries Pastor Dexter Skepple was pleased at the results of the camp. "It was not an easy week, it was a hard week," he said, adding, "It's not the end, its the beginning." Skepple spoke to the parents, advising them, "Don't be negative, give your boys an opportunity to grow. You have brand new young men, forget the past and look forward to the future."
Sen. Pedro Encarnacion is a member of Men of Honor, the group that oversees the Boys to Men program. "By accepting your children as our children we have become a family," Encarnacion said. He pledged his continued support to the graduates and their parents.
Ian Heath, an 11-year-old who attends 6th grade at the A to Z Academy in St. Croix, said the experience was good. "I learned the value of teamwork."
Several of the boys commented they now have a better respect for authority, and the program changed the way they think about their lives.
The group is planning an advanced boot camp in September. For more information call Boys to Men at 778-1575 or 692-PREP.
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