November 28, 2014

Elyria
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Youth program gives youths a chance to take advantage of talents

ELYRIA — When they came to the Urban Youth Adventure Challenge, each of the 45 young participants had one big problem — their mouths, said Michael Ferrer of the Lorain County Urban League.

“They had to have the last word,” Ferrer said.

COURTESY LORAIN COUNTY URBAN LEAGUE
Some of the participants in the Urban Youth Adventure Challenge hold up their kayaking paddles at the Wellington Reservation.

But by the time the kids graduated Saturday, they learned to have fun by working together and finding out what other people have to say.

“They taught me to be quiet for five minutes,” said Daniel Toro, 15, of Lorain. “I met a lot of people and everyone was friendly.”

Before he joined the youth adventure, Daniel said he got in trouble a lot.

“I didn’t care about nobody,” he said. Now, Daniel knows how to swim and he even helped rescue his sister when she started to drown, he said.

If somebody does get hurt, Daniel and the other kids know first aid and how to stay calm in an emergency, he said.

The best part was overnight camping because the kids got to stay up until 5 a.m. exchanging their thoughts and telling stories, Daniel said.

“I loved it,” he said. “We fished and played games and made a fireplace and told stories.”

The program was developed three years ago with the help of Daniel Martin of the Lorain County Metro Parks, who was looking for a way to increase minority use and appreciation for the parks, according to Ferrer.

The Metro Parks provides $30,000 — the bulk of the funding needed to run the program, he said.

This year, most kids are 13 to 16, although two 12-year-olds took part.

COURTESY LORAIN COUNTY URBAN LEAGUE
Chanel Pabon, 12, learns how to hold on while being led on a horse at the Carlisle Reservation.

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera also was a driving force because he encouraged the Metro Parks and Urban League to keep at-risk youth busy on Friday nights and Saturdays when kids are most likely to go astray of the law, Ferrer said.

Since April, teens involved in the adventure challenge spent Fridays from 4:30 to 8 p.m. swimming at the Splash Zone in Oberlin and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at various Metro Parks.

They learned how to kayak at the Wellington Reservation a few weeks ago, and even impressed a park visitor who told Ferrer the kids were well-behaved and worked well together.

But the best part of the whole program was riding horses at the Carlisle Reservation, said Donisha Shepherd, 14, of Elyria.

“I rode a breed of horse called a paint,” she said. “You feel so free.”

She was initially scared because the horse was so big, but Ferrer insisted she try it at least once.

“He said, ‘Donisha, overcome your fears,’” she said.

Donisha said she was impressed by the fact that horse owners spent so much time teaching the inner-city kids about their animals.

“They didn’t even know us,” she said.

Ferrer said the program pushes the kids to achieve by working together to solve a problem.

For example, staff sometimes buries the coolers containing food and the kids have to find them before their hunger is satisfied.

COURTESY LORAIN COUNTY URBAN LEAGUE
The Lorain County Urban League’s Michael Ferrer clowns while Davionte Smalley (left) and Demetrius Harris, both 12, eat pizza at Lakeview Park.

During another exercise, the kids tread water in a circle for nearly a half hour, he said.

“Everything’s a challenge,” he said. 

Ferrer, himself the father of six children, said he knows the program is making a difference because he sees a zest for life on the part of the young people.

Daniel wants to go to college, as does Donisha, who wants to become a doctor and care for premature babies.

But when they began the program, Ferrer said most of the youth were on the verge of being involved in the criminal justice system or already had gotten in trouble.

For example, two young people were involved in two bomb threats that caused the evacuation of schools earlier this year because they were in the home where the calls were made, he said.

One of the youths, a teenage girl, is wrapping up terms of her probation and can move on to happier goals, he said.