By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Intense program helps damaged teens heal and move on

Photo by Julie Peters/Special to The Star: Brothers Jesse, 13, left, and Juan Soto, 14, both of Oxnard, with youth director and tutor Uriah Glynn, foreground, work on homework at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme during an after-school program.

The power of YESS

They stopped using drugs and alcohol. They improved their test scores and grades. And those with a history of fighting learned the value of walking away.

The Oxnard youths saw their lives change in one weekend at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme, where they worked through issues from low self-esteem to family violence.

These youths experienced YESS, a life-skills program developed by Jack Canfield, author of the best-selling "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series.

"Our youths are crying out for our help," said Tim Blaylock, the local club's chief professional officer. "Many are lost and lonely and do not have the parental support that they deserve, or have parents/guardians with so many of their own problems that they cannot see or deal with the young people that they are responsible for."

In fact, many of the issues kids are facing relate to adults in their lives who have brought violence, divorce, abandonment, drug use, crime, gangs and poverty into their children's lives, he added.

"Many of our kids do not have the coping skills to deal with their feelings, anger and emotions," Blaylock said, "and the YESS program helps them face these challenges head-on and in many cases leave the baggage behind forever."

Draws kids from all walks of life

Geared for ages 13 to 21, the program is based on Canfield's "Success Principles Program," which has been adapted to work for the particular needs of youths.

The intense, weekend workshop is designed to assist teens with healing and moving on, said Erin Antrim, club director of delinquency prevention.

"The program is experiential learning, where youths are able to work on building self-confidence, sense of worth, and can start to leave the old behind and move forward with their lives," Antrim said. "Youths face so many different obstacles in life, this program helps kids build the resiliency to be successful despite the odds that are against them."

Offered twice at the club as a pilot program, YESS, which stands for Youth Empowerment Success System, brought tangible results with about 75 youths who were broken up into two age groups: 12 to 14 and 15 to 18.

According to one-month follow-up reports taken by Boys & Girls Club staff members, participants showed an improved overall attitude about life, a newfound feeling of happiness and confidence and the realization that they have choices.

The program drew kids from all walks of life, including those who had considered suicide. There were foster youths, kids who had been in trouble with petty crime, kids who had the toughest and hardest lives, and those who were part of the all-American family who one would never think had any life challenges at all, Blaylock said.

"This program made a difference for all of them; the youths really get to know themselves," Blaylock said.

"They come in with a lot of baggage and sadness in many cases," he said. "After and during the program, they are able to leave a lot of the hardships and the social ills that they have faced in the past behind and begin to move forward with their lives.

"It gives them hope for the future and opens their eyes to new opportunities for success," Blaylock said.

'Life is about everybody'

Twelve-year-old Danika, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy, said the program changed her life.

"I used to have a lot of anger and sadness in me because of my dad, but now it is all lifted off of my shoulders," she said.

Mariah, 13, said she would recommend the program to every kid in the world.

"It has taught me that life is about everybody, and everybody deserves a second chance," she said. "I also learned it's OK to cry because that's how you get over your weaknesses."

Eighteen-year-old Michael learned to open up to people "and not let the past tear my mind to pieces," he said, "(to) not store my hurt like pack rats but to throw away the memories that disturb us the most."

Mizael, 17, learned how to have more confidence in himself, "and that, instead of having hate within me, I learned that I could love instead."

The program includes a follow-up with a caring adult — in this case, staff members of the Boys & Girls Club — who reinforce the knowledge the youths have learned.

'You need to let things go'

Teresa Telles, one of several coaches who helped the youths through the process, learned something about herself as well.

"I have learned that you need to let things go and not be bitter toward people who have hurt you because you might not see that person one day," said Telles, 28.

"This experience has taught me how to help teens with issues that I never thought I could before," she said. "This was truly a life-changing experience for the teens and me, and it will last us a lifetime."

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