Aretha Franklin may have popularized the word respect, but one of our club members has taught us how important respect is.

Weighing in at 90 pounds and standing barely 5 feet, 2 inches tall, Josefina Guerra* has a powerful message. Josie’s unassuming and humble manner, make the other teens trust her at the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. Josie is teen members and is also a Keystone Club leader. (Keystone is our community service and leadership group.) She organizes the teens for community service and leadership projects such as Keep McAllen Beautiful Clean Up events. While she is an honor student at McAllen High School and will be graduating soon, she identifies the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen as a second home. The Club is a home she desperately needed.

Josie and her mom fled their hometown hoping for a brand new start in McAllen. Josie and her mom are victims of family violence. They were held at knifepoint by a family member. Arguments, yelling and fights occurred daily.

Josie confided in her mentors at the Club about her experiences. She says that the respect that mentors and club members demonstrate towards one another is a welcome change to her old life. Her eyes water with tears when she says, “everyone speaks with kindness to each other at the club.” Josie has not experienced a lot of kindness and respect in her young life. So she values it even more. Josie’s honor of our club code of ethics leads other teens to be mindful of respect.

Family violence is an epidemic in our region. One in five women in the Rio Grande Valley have experienced abuse according to Mujeres Unidas, a local non-profit specializing in assistance to victims of family violence and rape. Children and teens exposed to violence is reported at an all time high. Experts say children exposed to violence are more likely to become violent themselves. Some studies suggest that children exposed to violent partnerships in their parents have a greater tendency to experience violence in their dating lives as adolescents. In part, this may be due to the fact that they have not been taught other forms of conflict resolution.

Certainly intervention and services for families experiencing violence is needed. Mujeres Unidas has such services to help offenders and the victims; however prevention efforts for youth and teens are also needed. Prevention through mentoring is the expertise of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen.

The Boys & Girls Club of McAllen already has a prevention curriculum called SMART Moves. Youth learn many skills for conflict resolution and resistance to underage drinking and drug use. A more targeted program is needed for at risk teens. The Boys & Girls Club of McAllen announces a new program for violence prevention called DateSMART in which a trained mentor will facilitate small group sessions of teens between the ages of 13 and 18. Date SMART (Skills Mastery And Resistance Training) will:

1. Provide an opportunity for youth to develop and gain knowledge and skills needed to develop healthy dating relationships that are fun, safe and mutually supportive.

2. Increase members ability to help their family and friends who suffer from abuse in dating or suffer from sexual or domestic violence.

3. Encourage youth to participate in preventing dating, sexual or domestic violence by confronting attitudes and actions that may lead to violence and promote relationships based on respect and equality.

4. Connect members and their families with community and national resources that may aid them or others in the future and assist in prevention.

Please call the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen for more information, 956-682-5791.

Laura Reagan-Porras is a sociologist and the Chief Professional Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for questions or comments at lreagan_porras@bgcmcallen.org or the number above.

*Josefina Guerra is a fictional name to protect the club member; however her story is used with permission.