Madera County Sheriff's Department Detective Kristine Hawk is seeking community volunteers to serve as trainers for a nationally recognized program that addresses bullying and violence against children. The program, RadKIDS, is being introduced throughout Madera County by the sheriff's department and is geared for children 5 to 12 years old.
The RadKIDS 10-hour Personal Empowerment Safety Education Program is a family centered safety education program that emphasizes essential decision-making skills as well as physical resistance options to escape violence. Activities will emphasize character development, citizenship training and personal fitness.
Through RadKIDS training, children become empowered learning to replace the fear, confusion and panic of dangerous situations with confidence, personal safety skills and self-esteem.
The course is also dedicated to teaching life skills to both children and their families.
Since 1998, program officials have documented thousands of children who have escaped the trauma of sexual and physical abuse and more than 50 children who have escaped the horror of a stranger abduction due to the program
Hawk presented details of the program to a small group of interested individuals at Oakhurst Elementary School June 14.
She said the program is based on three basic foundations: No one has the right to hurt you; you don't have the right to hurt anyone; and it is not your fault if someone hurts you and you can tell -- your a survivor, not a victim.
"The goal is to offer the program in every elementary school in the county in the fall,"Hawk said. "We need to get 32 volunteers by Sept. 1 to cover the Mountain Area and an additional 32 by January."
Volunteers are needed for the large undertaking of providing the program to 15,585 Madera County children that fall in the 5 to 12 age range.
"We are looking for help through the schools, churches, Boys & Girls Clubs or any other community organization that is interested in assisting with the program," Hawk said.
Volunteers can help out four hours a month as a program assistant or can become an instructor, requiring 15 hours a month after a five day training certification course provided by the sheriff's department.
This is the first time the nationally recognized program has been introduced to Central California.
"RadKIDS (resisting aggression defensively) is a 10-hour course that teaches children how to stop someone from bullying them or committing a violent act against them," Hawk said. "The program has been in operation for 12 years nationally and since its inception, more than 5,000 sexual assault disclosures have been made and 93%of attempted abductions have been thwarted because of this course."
Hawk said Stephen Daley is the executive director of the program headquartered in Maine, after working for more than 20 years in law enforcement.
"The program has grown into an exciting and empowering violence prevention program with a strong mission to stop the cycle of violence in children's lives," Hawk said.
"The RadKIDS program is truly a gift for all children in Madera County," Hawk said.
More than 3,000 law enforcement, education and child social service professionals have been trained as instructors for the program across the country. The program has been introduced to 45 states and Canada.
The program trains children in a variety of safety issues including home safety, how to avoid bullying, Internet safety, how to tell and respond if someone is trying to trick you, how to react if a stranger grabs you and the difference between good, bad and uncomfortable touch.
National statistics show the need to implement the program in Madera County according to Sheriff John Anderson.
An estimated 798,000 children are reported missing each year
90% of all students, grades 4 through 8, report being threatened and bullied in school.
Last year, 10,000 children stayed home from school at least once a month fearing bullies.
In 2011, 20 elementary school aged children committed suicide because of bullying.
Diane Mello, an assistant at the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State and past 14 year board member for the Children's Museum of the Sierra, attended the meeting last Thursday.
She said she was drawn to the program for several reasons.
"I like that the program provides certified instruction from an established national program and a value system that promotes unwavering self confidence," Mello said after the meeting. "The program will also teach self defense techniques and options for children in situations that may threaten or harm a them physically, mentally or emotionally."
Mello is familiar from personal experience with the successful IMPACT Bay Area Model Mugging program, which includes drills on self defense techniques coupled with emotional support for people of all ages, similar to RadKIDS.
"RadKIDS is a program that not only teaches physical self defense but includes a safe environment to nurture self awareness, engage in activity based lessons and provide opportunities to work through the 'freeze responses' from fear, shock, unawareness or uncertainty," Mellow said.
Mello feels developing a child's voice to strongly say 'no', 'it's not my fault' and 'I can tell someone' coupled with honing skills of self defense and intolerance to violence are beneficial life long skills.
"The values not only transforms unacceptance of violence or harm towards oneself but develops a strong opposition towards witness or acceptance of bullying with others," Mello said. " RadKIDS is a great investment for our children's self worth and a rewarding community contribution."
J Doss, B&G Club of Oakhurst director, attended the information meeting and plans to incorporate the RadKIDS program at the club.
Kristen Kernaghan, youth activities coordinator at Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, oversees the Chukchansi summer program at Coarsegold Elementary School for about 40 tribal children, also attended the meeting and feels the program is important.
"I think RadKIDS covers the fundamentals of teaching self esteem and self defense for the children and also educates them about the bullying issue," Kernaghan said.
Although there is not enough time to be trained for her summer program, Kernaghan plans on herself or a staff member to be trained to help present the program to children in surrounding elementary schools in the fall.
The project, a year in the making, is being made possible by a $38,000 community grant from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians and other public donations.
Although the program costs as much as $325 per child in some parts of the country, the course is free for any Madera County children participating in the course due to the grant.
"The program is strictly voluntary for both the school districts and parents of children who would benefit from the program," said Erica Stuart, sheriff's department public information officer.
Nationally, 250,000 children have been trained in the RadKIDS Personal Empowerment Safety Education Program and more than 3,500 community instructors have been trained.
Another Oakhurst planning meeting will be held in July.
Community volunteers interested in assisting with the program should contact Stuart, (559) 675-7976, or Hawk, (559) 675-7770, kristine.hawk@co. madera.ca.gov.