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Point Break aims to have youth open up, share before problems do greater damage
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Samantha VanHorn, a representative of Youth for Christ, addressed Blaker Kinser Junior High School students during a half-day of workshops designed to get kids to open up their hearts wounds to each other. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

In a day when texting and social media websites like Facebook have pre-empted face-to-face conversation, many teens suffer isolation when it comes to dealing with heavy hearted emotional issues. But during a half-day Point Break workshop a group of youth leaders told Blaker Kinser Junior High School students last week that sharing their struggles is not only healthy but necessary.

The workshop was offered by Youth for Christ, a campus based ministry, is designed to lower the incidence of student bullying, gangs and suicide, said Assistant Principal Jared Hungerford. "It's to help them deal with their pain - all kids have issues they're dealing with."

A similar one was held Tuesday at Mae Hensley Junior High.

"Sometimes you've just got to get things off your chest," Youth for Christ workshop facilitator Sammie VanHorn told a gym full of about 100 students. "It's good to confide things with one another."

Students were paired up in facing chairs on the gym floor to play games and icebreakers. The leaders then ratcheted the conversations to deeper levels through probing questions designed to get them to open up and share their feelings.

VanHorn shared some heartbreaking statistics with her young audience in an effort to illustrate how far reaching emotional problems can be in their lives:

• Three out of 10 youth come from a home dealing with mental illness, including depression or anxiety;

• One in three girls and one in seven boys have been victims of sexual abuse;

• Three out of 10 students live in a home where there is physical or verbal abuse;

• One in four students are exposed to substance abuse;

• Three in 10 students have or will be in an abusive relationship.

• Four in 10 students live in a home with only one parent.

VanHorn said that many of the issues are hidden because they are accompanied by embarrassment but she encouraged them to share to find freedom.

She outlined that an abusive relationship is one in which one dominates the other, or one who will not share control or power. "That's not okay and that's 30 percent of us in this room," she said.

VanHorn encouraged students to let their frustrations and concerns out to others.

"We can only handle so much. We can take only so much... some of us explode. The other way to not explode is to let out a little bit at a time. The best to deal with it is by risking... opening up to one another. You've got to risk reaching out to one another."

Youth for Christ expects to conduct four workshops at Ceres High School, four at Central Valley High School, and two or three at each of the junior high schools.

"It's proven that it improves campus morale, creates empathy towards others and reduces violence and reduces gossiping," said Rob Irwin, a Youth for Christ employee.

After a workshop held in elsewhere in the county, Irwin said one girl turned in a piece of glass that she often for repeated self-inflicted cuts and announced "I don't want to do it anymore."

Irwin said the Point Break program was developed by the Stockton chapter of Youth for Christ and modified.

Ceres schools have embraced the program, said Irwin. Others he have found it's like "pulling teeth" to get in. It's unknown why there is the resistance, he said, but not likely because it's Christian based since the program is faith neutral.

"We talk about God but it's very, very loose. It's more or less our story. Like later on in the day Ken (Sylvia) is going to tell his story how when he was younger he had a hard upbringing because of his parents' divorce but he talks about God kind of helped him through that. But it's not like we give altar calls. We're not trying to make everyone Christians. That's ultimate goal but while we're at school we follow all the rules."

Sylvia is the director of Mentoring for the Stanislaus County Youth for Christ, focusing on Ceres.