By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tucker M. Yates, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest
May 18, 2010 - OAK HARBOR, Wash. (NNS) -- Forty-two students graduated from Drug Education For Youth (DEFY) during a ceremony at Cliffside Park on Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island May 15.
According to the DEFY website, the goal of the Department of Defense (DoD) sponsored program is to produce 9 to 12 year olds with character, leadership, and confidence so they are equipped to engage in positive, healthy lifestyles as drug-free citizens and have the necessary skills to be successful in their lives through coordinated community participation, commitment and leadership.
"They're getting the right information about drugs and alcohol. They're going to learn this stuff when they get into high school and probably in a negative way. This way they have an informed decision about what it is and how to say no. I think this gives them a good background prior to all that," said Naval Aircrewman 1st Class (NAC/AW) Ted Mansikka, assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1, from Bozeman, Mont. and had two children in the program.
According to NAS Whidbey Island Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Darin Hand, almost 65,000 Navy and Marine Corps dependents participated in the program this year and 377,901 children total participated for the DoD.
Hand and Cmdr. Kimberly Schulz, Fleet Readiness Center Northwest (FRC NW) commanding officer, served as guest speakers.
"The fact that you've dedicated yourself to staying off drugs and alcohol at an early age, getting the knowledge about what those things do to your body, mind and spirit, it's tremendous that you took the challenge," said Hand. "You are our future. Knowing that you are going to be there to take care of me when I'm in my 60s and 80s and seeing you all here now, I'm grateful for what you're doing."
The program is a two-phase process that begins with a summer camp and continues throughout the school year with mentors meeting weekly with students, culminating in the graduation according to Chief Aviation Electrician's Mate (AW) Cody Allen, the program manager assigned to FRC NW, from Fort Worth, Texas.
"The title is Drug Education For Youth, but we do a lot more than that. We teach them life skills," said Allen. "We try to give them the opportunity to identify [adverse situations] so they can make the right choice and decide to do the right thing."
The parents who get involved in the program have not only seen how it affects their children's lives, but theirs as well.
"The main thing that I like about the program is so many children come in with different attitudes and, having kids of my own, I can see some of the stuff they do and things that help them. If I can't help them as a mentor maybe one of the other mentors can address their problem, and it helps me as a parent dealing with my children," said Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class (AW/SW) Daniel Graham, the assistant program coordinator assigned to NAS Whidbey Island Search and Rescue, from Tampa, Fla. "Also, as a Sailor, I see some of the things they may be lacking from their parents since they might be deployed, and we can give it to them here; that helps me to know what to give my children to prepare them before I go on deployment."
Approximately 20 volunteers from NAS Whidbey Island supported the program and served as senior mentors to the children throughout the year.
"I've got to thank the volunteers; you guys have devoted a year of your time to make sure that these young folks get the educations they needed," said Schulz.
Graham said the program helps to provide peace of mind for deploying parents by ensuring their children are getting the right message while they are away.
"That's part of how this program got founded, helping the readiness of the Sailors because it's known that, being in the military, when a parent [deploys] it's going to be one parent doing the whole job of taking care of the family. They may not have that extra time to educate them on drugs, alcohol and all the other stuff that the program has to offer," said Graham.
Graham said he feels proud to be a part of the program and, as the year progresses, can see the children involved developing a more positive mentality.
"The program has been very successful," said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class (AW) Kristopher Burris, the camp director assigned to FRC NW, from St. Louis, Mo. "It's a good program and I think more people should get involved with it."