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MacDill, local police help at-risk kids DEFY odds

by Senior Airman Andrea Thacker
Thunderbolt staff writer
Photo: Senior Airman Andrea Thacker

Tech. Sgt Daniel Ellis, 6th Security Forces Squadron working dog handler, answers questions from the DEFY group about the military working dog section and its responsibility at MacDill.

Little 11-year-old DaMarquie Martin dreams of being President of the United States one day and MacDill is helping him take steps to accomplish his childhood dreams.

DaMarquie and more than 30 other children, ages 9 to 12, from the Bay area spent this week in phase one of Drug Education for Youth, more commonly known as DEFY.

DEFY is a program sponsored by a partnership between MacDill and local law enforcement including the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office, the Tampa Police Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Flying the KC-135 flight simulator topped the charts as most of the children's favorite activity of the week. Xavier Wilson, an 11-year-old Sulfur Springs elementary school student, said he felt like he was really flying a plane even through he knew he wasn't moving.

This is the sixth consecutive year MacDill has participated in the youth program with the community and provided volunteers to mentor the at risk children.

The mentors are part of a self-esteem building program that provides these lucky kids with the tools they need to resist drugs, gangs and alcohol abuse.

Senior Airman Melissa Lopez, 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, is volunteering for the second year and enjoys working with these children because they have fun together.

"This program gives children a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience things that will motivate them to make the right decisions in life," said Airman Lopez. "Instead of sitting inside playing video games or out running the streets these kids are learning everything from proper hygiene to building teamwork."

The weeklong summer camp, which includes fun activities and tours around the base, also includes a half a day of DEFY curriculum each day.

The curriculum stresses interpersonal relations and emphasizes leadership and teamwork. Along the way, it raises awareness of the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs, as well as the dangerous effects of joining gangs. The structured curriculum offers education, skill development and physical fitness. DEFY is all about creating positive experiences so kids will learn to move forward in life and realize the plethora of opportunities awaiting them.

"This program is unique because we work hand and hand with the military members to teach these kids valuable lessons that will help them choose healthy alternatives to substance abuse and gang involvement," said Randy Lopez, Tampa Police Department.

Other parts of the program include learning about peer pressure, conflict resolution and build-ups and put-downs.

"This challenging, fun-filled week in the summer is followed by a year of mentoring," said Officer Lopez. "Most participants gain a great deal from the DEFY experience. They make lasting friendships and learn a lot about themselves."

Upon graduation, which takes place tonight, the kids receive diploma-like certificates and are placed in youth organizations to help them meet their goals.

Phase Two of DEFY takes place throughout the school year, usually on the third weekend of each month. This is when lessons are reinforced and the children apply what they learned during the summer camp.

DaMarquie might not be old enough to run in the 2004 election but he has plenty of time to apply the lessons learned this week.




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