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Children learn when to say ‘no’ to adults in YMCA program

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By Carol A. Clark

Kicking, screaming, breaking free and dashing towards the nearest telephone to alert 9-1-1 are lifelines mastered by young graduates of a dynamic new program at The Family YMCA.“This will stay with you for the rest of your life,” certified instructor Lisa Gonzales said of the strategic techniques taught in the R.A.D. (Resisting Aggression Defensively) course, which concluded Saturday.R.A.D. is a personal empowerment safety education and violence prevention program for children. The program is offered free of charge through a partnership between the YMCA, Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and Los Alamos Police Department.During Saturday’s graduation ceremony in the YMCA gymnasium, Cpl. Oliver Morris, also R.A.D. certified, donned a bright red protective suit to demonstrate for parents the quick and forceful reaction their children now take to a stranger’s unwanted advances.Morris approached each child with ploys:• “Hi ... can you help me find my dog?” • “Your mom told me to pick you up.”• “Can you help me find my wallet?”• “Come here, I want to show you something.”Each 8- to 12-year-old sprang into survival mode. They yelled, “Stay back — You’re not my dad!” They hit the “stranger” and screamed no, no, no, then ran quickly to call police. During the children’s proactive responses, Gonzales encouraged ever louder yelling, telling the children, “No one wants to take a child who’s loud and screaming.”Morris attempted to grab each child from both behind and in front, preparing them to react decisively in either case. “Children’s brains shutdown when they’re scared,” Morris said. “This training develops their instinct to fight back.” The students recited three important rules memorized during the 10-hour-long course, given two hours a day over two weekends:• No one has the right to hurt me because I am special;• I don’t have the right to hurt anyone else unless they try to hurt me and then I stop them; and• If anyone tries to hurt me, trick me or make me feel bad inside, it’s not my fault – so I can tell.“I believe this program will help combat tragedy from coming to our community,” Morris told the parents. “Our goal is to prevent any child from being abducted or hurt in any way.”Gonzales explained that if it doesn’t feel right, children have a right to tell adults “no” and said she hopes to get the program on the curriculum in the local elementary schools.Parent Peg Froelich applauded as she watched her daughter fight off the man in red, break loose and run across the gym to a telephone and dial 9-1-1. “I think this program is great,” Froelich said. “Even though you think of this as a safe community, it’s good for the kids to be empowered and to be made aware that these types of situations do occur.”Froelich’s daughter, Zhou Pattillo, 10, described the most important thing she learned in the R.A.D. course: “That nobody has the right to hurt us,” she said.The course is given each month and alternates between 5- 7-year-olds and 8- 12-year-olds. Classes are limited to eight children. The March class is already full. Currently Gonzales, Morris, Cpl. James Rodriguez and Cpl. Nicholl Sanchez are the only local certified instructors. Gonzales is seeking volunteers available to become certified and instruct classes.“We really need volunteers,” she said. “We have four volunteers and if we can get 10 more, then the company will come to Los Alamos and train all 14. I have the funding in place for them.”For information, call Gonzales at 412-3150. To learn about the R.A.D. national organization, access www.radKIDS.org.