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Spring 2023 Written by Melissa Cruz, Prevention Educator

I have only been working with the prevention team for six months. But I’ve been working with children and young people in some way for 20 years. I have a heart for our youth – especially ones needing the most encouragement. I’ve taught in preschools and elementary and middle schools and gathered truths along the way.

Something I’ve learned from my experience is that usually when children act up at school – something’s going on in their lives or in the home.

I’ve gleaned from training and I’m able to shift the question from, “What’s wrong with them?” to “What’s happened to them?”

As part of our violence prevention outreach, we’re in the schools. My prior role at Crime Victim Services included being a child advocate. I worked with families experiencing brokenness by ways of drug addiction or alcohol or domestic violence. This was right here in Allen County. That’s always on my heart as I go into the schools.

My area of focus is Lima City Schools. Although I lived outside of Lima for 20 years before moving back – this is my hometown. I share with the students that I walked these roads. I went to West for middle school. I see this resonate with them. I remember wanting to leave here. But there’s still good here.

I want to pour into them – and I think often about how I would have loved hearing our prevention message when I was in the city schools.

Another truth about youth – kids love candy! I love how candy opens a way into hearts! I give candy after I teach each lesson. A handful of students usually come and request extra pieces as class ends. Most of the time my answer is, “Yes, have another piece!” I love how they look like, “Really?”

When I was a kid – the candy shop was my favorite! I loved standing in front of the display cabinet making my selections. I could go into the store with just a few coins and come out of there feeling so special with a little brown-paper bag filled with goodies! I understand the candy story.

I bring the pencils that I know kids like these days like…Ticonderoga. I make sure everything I bring is whole and unbroken – such a simple way of showing them they deserve good things.

As prevention educators we teach lessons about boundaries and what healthy relationships look like. When I first began teaching boundaries as a way of protection, a picture came to my mind. I thought of the little trees I’ve seen in the parks. Trees that someone has taken time with and tended to them. That’s how I view our young people – like the tree that needs support as it grows.

The picture I show each class is of a tree with a stake supporting it.

I ask the students questions about the picture.

Is the tree young or mature?

They answer, “Young.”

Is someone tending to the tree?

They answer, “Yes.”

This is one of my favorite times to connect as I walk around the classroom with this sweet tree picture.

Our young people need support as they grow. I want to be one of the ones putting a stake in the ground to strengthen our young ones as their roots deepen. I hope to inspire others to put a stake in the ground too!

Another truth – kids know when our heart is for them.

Something special was happening in each of the 6 classes I taught this spring as a guest speaker. When I shared that I made these “worthy” cards for them – the classes became quiet.

My hope is that this statement I wrote on the cards may become a lifelong encouragement:

“You are worthy of being protected.”

Because they are.

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