SUNDRE - Obtaining insight on respectful relationships and introductory training in self-defence basics helped build the confidence of adolescents who participated in an extracurricular event aimed at empowering them.
Members of the Sundre High School Leo Club, with logistical support from science teacher and club liaison Ryan Beck, recently came up with the idea to host what they dubbed Youth Empowerment Day. The main objective behind the effort was to impart the students who attended with information to help guide healthy life decisions.
Carmen Wolfe, a Leo club member and Grade 12 student, initially came up with the vision for the event.
“We hadn’t really had a day like that before. I thought it would be a good idea to try it out,” said the 17-year-old during a phone interview while on lunch break.
Leo club president Brianna Braybrook said Wolfe pitched the idea to her classmates, who without hesitation supported the initiative.
“We all really jumped on board with it,” said Braybrook, who is also graduating in 2020.
“Mr. Beck helped us make it into a reality.”
Hosted by the Sundre Elks Lodge, the non-mandatory event, held on Saturday, Dec. 14, was broken down into three main segments. There was martial arts self-defence training with a focus on escaping an attacker, provided courtesy of local instructor Perry Stokalko, whose studio is in the lodge’s basement. There was also tips by the local RCMP on learning to recognize dangerous situations to avoid needing to resort to physical confrontation. As well, there was information presented by the Red Cross on understanding consent and identifying signs of a toxic relationship.
Shindo Kempho Karate-Do offered six hours of free martial arts training. The Sundre and District Lions Club contributed $450 to cover the cost of the Red Cross presentation. The Sundre Elks Club donated the use of its hall, while IGA donated snacks, said Beck, who expressed his gratitude for the community’s support in ensuring the students were able to participate at no cost.
“The youth spent three hours training in martial arts focused on how to escape from an attacker. They had a presentation from the Lions Club on bullying prevention, a presentation from the RCMP on some common sense safety ideas, like protecting your drink at parties and walking with a friend, with the goal that they would never need to use the martial arts training we provided,” he wrote by email.
“They also had a presentation from the Red Cross on healthy relationships, consent, and what to do if you or a friend is in an unhealthy relationship. The female participants were able to have a bonus fireside chat with a nurse practitioner from the Moose and Squirrel about any health-related questions they had,” he said, adding that due to a scheduling conflict, this session was not available for the boys.
“But we hope to provide this opportunity in the future,” he said.
“The male and female students did the martial arts training and healthy relationships training separately so they could focus on scenarios and issues that are on average more often specific to their gender, while they did the RCMP and bullying training all together,” he said.
“I really was hoping that people who attended were empowered by the day,” said Wolfe.
The introduction to self-defence training provided a substantial confidence boost by helping to prepare participants to react in the face of such situations rather than freezing up, she added.
Furthermore, she said the Red Cross presentation featured real-life scenarios that offered insight on identifying the signs of a toxic or abusive relationship, and how to address such a difficult circumstance. The presentation even encouraged students to introspectively reflect on their own behaviour, ensuring they treat others respectfully.
“It was a good way to learn more about a healthy relationship,” she said.
Braybrook agreed, and said she came away with a better understanding of seeing the signs, understanding those situations, and recognizing what should not be acceptable.
“We had an open dialogue about issues,” she said, citing examples like the challenges of growing up, such as peer pressure and how that can be a big influence in making detrimental decisions.
The 17-year-old said the highlight for her was the open discussion with the nurse, Tammy Surbey.
“It was a comfortable setting,” said Braybrook.
“It felt like I could talk about anything; like no topic was off limits.”
The self-defence training was also an exhilarating experience that provided a good outlet to release some energy, she added.
Overall, everything turned out really well, said Wolfe, who most enjoyed the introduction to mixed martial arts and learning how to avoid situations like physical confrontations by simply walking away when possible.
“I got pretty positive feedback from most of the girls,” she said.
“We’re hoping to have it again next semester and maybe even in the years to come.”
Although Braybrook and Wolfe are graduating in 2020, they hope leadership students in the future pick up the torch and continue organizing similar events now that a blueprint is in place.
As the event was an extracurricular weekend activity, participation was voluntary, but turnout was high. Due to the success experienced, the leadership club aspires to make plans for another Youth Empowerment Day next semester.
Wolfe encourages any of her classmates who did not attend this time to consider participating the next.
“Just come, you can’t lose in any way. All you can do is benefit from the experience.”