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SMART Moves Helps Struggling Teens Make Wise Decisions

Times Staff Writer

Many of the kids who go to the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clara Valley come from single-parent households. Most are from low-income families.

And all face the pressures that teens everywhere face -- pressures to fit in and look good, pressures that can lead them astray.

Officials at the Boys & Girls Club, which serves 4,500 youths in 11 locations in Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru, hope their SMART Moves program will help ease the teens’ transition from childhood to adolescence and then adulthood.

The program, an acronym for Skills Mastery and Resistance Training, gets the youths together in weekly sessions to address topics ranging from, for the youngest, building friendships to, for the oldest, drugs, alcohol and pregnancy.

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“It builds a lot more self-confidence in the kids,” said Patricia Zwagerman, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley’s Boys & Girls Clubs. “They end up feeling more comfortable talking about their feelings.... They learn how to say no, to be assertive with their peers.”

This year, the program received $15,000 from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, which raises money for nonprofit agencies in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

SMART Moves has different programs for different ages -- Smart Kids for those 6 through 9, Start Smart for 10- through 12-year-olds and Stay Smart for ages 13 to 15. In addition, the Smart Girls and Passport to Manhood sessions target specific genders.

Each session lasts six to eight weeks, with 15 to 20 youths usually participating in the group discussions. Each ends with a graduation ceremony.

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A big component of the Smart Girls session are discussions about media influence and body image, said program director Carmen Carrillo.

Brought up on television and magazine notions of attractiveness, Carrillo said, many of the girls had trouble finding beauty in themselves or their friends.

“Some of them were even crying because they felt ugly,” she said. “But at the end of their hour together, they all felt strong.... They knew it’s what’s inside that counts.”

Topics in Passport to Manhood include how to respect and respond to authority, fatherhood and family, jobs and careers and conflict resolution, Carrillo said.

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The sessions aren’t necessarily aimed at kids who already have had problems with authority or substance abuse -- they’re aimed at keeping kids out of trouble, Carrillo said.

“It’s a prevention program, so kids learn positive values and responsible behavior,” she said. “It builds common sense. It lets kids learn why they should make the decisions they make.”

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HOW TO GIVE

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The annual Holiday Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $800,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986.

Do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: latimes.com/holidaycampaign. All donations are tax-deductible.

Contributions of $50 or more may be published in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise; acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed.

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For more information, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.


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