Vail Daily column: A great resource for our kids
Since 1996, our little valley has been blessed by the Red Ribbon Project, thanks to a group of dedicated people who wanted to provide free, safe and confidential care to people who needed it most. It has since expanded programs and has touched the lives of so many in this valley.
I had the opportunity to teach with Red Ribbon Project last year in our local school district. I was a part of a class called Life Works and it was simply that — an opportunity to examine how your life works and what we can do to improve both our lives and the lives of those around us. Having had some experience in teaching, I thought I was prepared for what I would encounter. Ha! I walked into a class of about 30 sixth-grade students and had them tell me about what they were experiencing. Once these kids realized I was willing to listen, they astounded me with their depth and what they had to say. I’m 38 years old, not too far removed from the struggles of early teens, but far enough. I simply couldn’t imagine growing up with the challenges that they are facing. We feel safe and secure here and think that the news we read about in larger cities doesn’t touch us. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As in all places in the world, our kids struggle with the ideas of safety, sex, drug abuse, suicide, fear, depression and other issues we can’t even imagine.
I’ve heard people say that kids are harder to scare/tougher/stronger these days. I think the word they are looking for is desensitized. A study done by the University of Michigan over a period of 15 years showed that the average American child will see over 200,000 acts of violence and over 16,000 murders on their television screen between birth and age 17. That’s just television, not the countless other forms of media that are consumed. As a father of three young children, that terrifies me.
That same classroom I walked into exemplified this idea of desensitized children. I heard kids say, “If you touch my pencil, I’ll kill you,” and “I’ll come after your whole family”. These words were said in jest by overzealous young men attempting to impress one another; however, it doesn’t change the fact that this “new style” of vocabulary and world outlook are there.
It is for that reason and so many more that we need the Red Ribbon Project. I was taught to meet the kids where they are, develop a relationship and then see where we can insert our ideas and values. I was teaching group of high schoolers about starting our own business and getting them to think strategically.
When I asked what business we should use, one of the young men said a marijuana grow operation. Everyone laughed, as he’d expected, and they looked to me to change it to something more benign. He met my gaze when I challenged him and we spent the next hour discussing the steps. I’m not advocating drug use now, nor did I in front of those students, but I did take the opportunity to “meet them where they were” and have a meaningful conversation. Never have I had a more attentive class.
Afterward, one of the students came up to me and said he got a lot out of the class. He told me that he was considering starting an auto repair business; he had been taking notes regarding insurance, advertising, etc. He thanked me for answering the question, even if it was meant to make me uncomfortable. I still keep in touch with this student and he’s working toward this dream.
I was only able to teach at Red Ribbon Project for a short time but I know each of the educators there does as good a job and better than I could ever hope to on a daily basis.
We’ve been blessed in the 20 years this organization has served our valley. I feel comfortable as a father knowing there are resources like this for my children out there as they start to be bombarded by the world around them. I was honored to be a part of this dedicated and intelligent group for a short time and hope to return one day. Happy 20th, Red Ribbon Project. Looking forward to many more.
Erik Williams is a longtime Vail Valley resident and a former educator with the Red Ribbon Project.