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Kids camp out, stay drug free during DEFY program

By Pfc. Brian J. Holloran | | June 28, 2005

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"Ears!" yelled Lance Cpl. Jason A. Leal, a Tactical Exploitation Systems mechanic for Marine Air Control Squadron-1, and also a Drug Education For Youth camp mentor.

"Open!" was the reply from the 30 kids in the DEFY camp June 23 at the fire department training tower here.

DEFY is a leadership-building program that shows small groups of children what kind of fun activities they can participate in without drugs. The youths in this year's DEFY summer camp traveled to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma nearly every day to take part in lectures and athletics.

The camp also taught youths ways to avoid drugs and situations where drug usage might arise. The kids participated in activities such as visiting the local police station to learn what happens to drug addicts and attending a Yuma Scorpions baseball game for good clean fun.

"The kids participate in many different activities," said Beth Ayash, station drug demand reduction coordinator, and also coordinator of the DEFY program. "They go rappelling and canoeing. They learn new activities to help them stay healthy, in shape and drug free."

When the program ends, the children are more likely to take more responsibility for their actions, they will exercise more and they will assume more leadership roles in school and at home, said Ayash.

The camp started at 7 a.m. June 20 and ran until noon June 25. The camp takes 30 youths every year and is open to the children of active and retired military members as well as Department of Defense employees. The children must be between ages 9 and 12.

The kids stay at Yuma Proving Ground while enrolled in the camp. They are instructed in their day-to-day activities by nine mentors, all of whom are current active duty military members, and two junior mentors, who are kids with experience in the DEFY program.

The children wake up every morning with a full day of events lined up for them.

"It's a full day of physical activities; it gives the kids a natural and healthy high," said Ayash.

The kids wake up a 6 a.m., said Leal. They shower and dress, followed by breakfast. After breakfast the kids get a daily class about drugs, taught by one of the mentors. Then the children go to the preplanned activity. Sometimes it's rappelling or canoeing, other times it's a visit to the gym, or some dodgeball, explained Leal. Then it's off to lunch, followed by more activities, and then dinner. Then the kids go back to their huts at YPG for some fun. Leal said they enjoy activities like water balloon fights before showering and changing for bedtime.

The camp is about making the kids comfortable with themselves and not worrying about what other people think. It's designed to build a strong sense of self-confidence.

The rappelling isn't about if they do or don't go down, said Ayash. It's about the kids finding that comfort zone to say they don't want to go.

"We like to help the kids get over their fears and help them make new friends," said Leal. "I'm up there with them when they get ready to rappel down the building; they are all scared. I let them know it's OK to be afraid. It's great when they finally go down the rope because you helped them do it," said Leal. "We also show them the bad side of drugs and teach them to not use them."

"Rappelling is new, and it's a skill I can use forever," said Nathan Counts, one of the 30 kids enrolled this year in the DEFY camp. "We learned a lot of skills to use later when we get older."

"The best part of the program is that it teaches the kids to work as a team and helps them overcome the urge of drugs," said Leal. "DEFY also helps instill moral values to a new generation."

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