Project Charlie needs more school volunteers

Monday, December 16, 2002

If you are looking for a place to volunteer your time, Project Charlie is looking for you.

Through Project Charlie, an alcohol, drug and tobacco awareness program, volunteers visit local elementary classrooms as teachers and mentors. But the project needs a few more volunteers to sign up for next semester or there won't be enough to go around.

"We need volunteers, and particularly men, because more and more kids are growing up in single-parent households with no father figure, and they need a male role model," said Jana Jateff of Cape Girardeau, Project Charlie volunteer trainer and Clippard Elementary School coordinator.

Project Charlie (Chemical Abuse Resolution Lies In Education) was initiated in Edina, Mich., in 1976 because of a tremendous drug and alcohol epidemic in that area, according to Jateff. A group of concerned parents and volunteers brought the program to Southeast Missouri in 1985.

The Excelsior Optimist Club of Cape Girardeau took charge of funding and coordinating the program in 1996. Project Charlie is currently available in the Jackson and Cape Girardeau public school systems, as well as some private schools.

"It is teaching kids to realize they are somebody, to feel good about themselves, have a high self-esteem, so they don't get pulled into peer pressure," said Kim Kelly, optimist club member and Franklin Elementary School coordinator.

'It's a tough world'

The program consists of volunteers teaching one 30-minute class each week during the school year -- fourth-grade students the first semester, second-grade students the second semester. Volunteers and school teachers work together to set a day and time for the class.

The local project currently consists of 18 classroom positions and six school coordinators.

"It's a tough world, and the more we can do to combat peer pressure, the better. That's why we start so young to give them the education and tools to say no," Jateff said. "Most kids' natural curiosity about drugs starts at age 12, according to national statistics."

Fred Pennington of Cape Girardeau has been teaching a class of Franklin Elementary fourth-graders this semester who will graduate from the program Wednesday. Pennington grew up in a family of 12 raised by his mother in St. Louis' inner city.

"I love kids anyway, and I realize they are our future," Pennington said. "There are a lot of temptations out there for kids to get involved in, and if I can help them by sharing information or in some other way, then I am going to do it."

Some key points Pennington passes on to his students are to stay away from drugs, cultivate self-pride and respect for themselves as well as others, develop a positive attitude, remember to be thankful, and the importance of education.

"It is good for kids to know that someone other than their parents cares about them, someone other than a relative," Pennington said. "I know this from my own experience."

The end of his first Project Charlie semester is bittersweet for Pennington, but he is looking forward to next year.

"I've made friends," he said. "Next semester, I will meet another bunch of bright-eyed little characters."

A workshop for Project Charlie volunteers is scheduled from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at LaCroix United Methodist Church. This training will be for both and Cape Girardeau and Jackson schools. Call Jateff at 651-4103 for more information.

335-6611, extension 133

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