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Marines mentor juveniles through youth program

By Sgt. David A. Bryant | | January 23, 2003

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  "What did you just call me?" a Marine screamed at a youth participating in the Juvenile All Weekend Supervision program. "Do I look like a 'sir' to you?"

"No sir, ma'am!" the teenager replied. The program, a six-week 'last chance' for troubled youths before going to a juvenile detention center, had just begun. And the trainees were beginning to find out who was in charge.

"I didn't think so," the Marine said, leaning in close to see if the youth was getting an attitude with her.

Corporal Beth Shawhan, one of several Marine advisors participating in the JAWS program, said she knew what to look for. Shawhan, a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical specialist with Marine Wing Support Squadron-371, had been a troubled youth herself, which is why she volunteered to become an advisor for JAWS.

The program is a chance for Marines to change a young person's life by affecting the youth's attitude and how they deal with their surroundings.

"My whole life I've wanted to give back to juveniles," Shawhan said. "I was there, I know what it's like, I know where they're coming from at home. I would like to show these kids that they can change, that things don't have to stay the same their whole life."

Advisors incorporate physical training, drill, guided discussions and act as mentors to the young men and women attending the program, according to Staff Sgt. Johnathan Maxey, the director of the Station Substance Abuse Counseling Center and head of the Marine Corps side of the JAWS program.

"All Marine advisors come through me," he said. "I do an interview and a background check to make sure they are quality Marines. And we need ones that can relate to kids, so they can be a mentor."

Maxey has been a part of JAWS since Sept. 2000, and said he got into the program because his ultimate goal is to work with kids.

"It's a good program, and it works," Maxey said. "It's about life skills and behavior change. We teach (the trainees) to think  about what they say before they say it and to think about the consequences of their actions before they do anything."

When it comes to volunteers, Maxey said he looks for people who are willing to give back to the community by spending an hour or two of their time when needed. Volunteers must also enjoy working with kids.

"None of these kids are really bad," he said. "They're just looking for direction, and someone to look up to."

Seeing the change in the attitudes of the participants is the biggest reward for volunteering to be an advisor, said Staff Sgt. Charles Malone, aviation operations staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron.

"When I was growing up, a lot of my buddies were like these kids," he said. "A lot of them were killed, and a lot are in jail right now. I want to give these kids the chance that my buddies didn't get, and to see (the trainees) faces when they're done with the program. When they come up to you and say 'thank you;' that's why I do it."

Although the Marines may volunteer for different reasons, the gratification of helping someone have a better life is the best reward for giving up a few hours of free time, said Shawhan.

"The last class we had was a female class," she said. "Near the end, one trainee broke down and started crying. I heard her telling Staff Sgt. Malone about her home life, and it was kind of scary. It was like looking at myself when I was 17."

Shawhan said she spoke with the trainee afterward and related her own story to the young lady.

"I wanted to let her know there was someone else out there who had gone through the same things and still succeeded," she said. "To let her know that she could do it too. The next day you could see the difference in her outlook, you could tell she had changed. It was a wonderful experience."

The JAWS program is in need of more advisors, Maxey said.

The Arizona Children's Association Western Region Out-patient Services Department, which operates the program, would like to run more than one class at a time. Volunteers do not have to be Marines, but they do need military experience.

Qualified personnel who wish to volunteer can contact Maxey at 269-3669.

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