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Helping hurting youths

JULIEN NEAVES Sunday, April 16 2017

A YOUNG man from Laventille who lost three brothers to murder and the other three to prison. Another young man put out by his stepfather. A disabled mother seeking a father figure for her son.

These are three of the thousands of young adults, teenagers and children who have been steered away from crime and assisted to become productive citizens by the St James Police Youth Club and its manager/founder PC Derrick Sharbodie, since it was opened 25 years ago.

Sunday Newsday recently visited the club at Sierra Leone Road, Petit Valley and Sharbodie, 48, described the quarter century anniversary as “bittersweet.” “It is good knowing I have been able to touch so many young people,” he said.

He pointed out that some of the members have gone on to join the Police Service, the Regiment and also work in the private sector.

He said the bitter part, however, was that he believes he could have done much more but had very limited resources.

“It is (like) a pirogue with one worker and a net. If provided with a proper vessel, the catch would be greater.” He lamented that the club’s fresh and proactive approach was embraced by the public, rather than his own colleagues, and it has been an “uphill battle”. He said while the youth club approach is described as “soft policing”, it is actually an effective and efficient policing method.

He reported that through the Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, the club’s utility bills are paid and they receive financial assistance for projects if they apply on time. The commissioner is also seeking to encourage corporate partners for the club.

Sharbodie stressed that there needed to be more respect for the work done by officers who work with young people and, like narcotics and fraud, they should be viewed as a “specialist” in the field. He advised that the service issue a statement and recognise youth club leaders to bring more respect to them.

St James is the oldest youth club in Trinidad but not the oldest in the country; the Roxborough Police Youth Club is 26.

The club currently has 162 members, ranging in ages from five to 25. Eight members are from St Michael’s Home for Boys and there are six from St Jude’s Home for Girls.

A resident programme, where some members live on the premises, became possible when the club got its own space in 1998.

Before then, the club operated in schools. It has since has been able to accomplish 75 percent of its vision, said Sharbodie, as the club now offers a range of services.

The club has an IT lab, and its activities include: African dance, drumology, steel pan, martial arts, swimming, laminating and paper craft, garment construction, gender- based, anti-violence courses, youth empowerment, computer repairs, beauty culture and barbering, small alliance repairs and music school “They can find a safe place and not be at the mercy of gunshots.” There are even parenting classes for the parents of the younger members.

Sharbodie lamented that parenting is one area, the club has not been able to make a “serious dent” in.

“Not all parents understand and are clear on their roles. They feel the centre there to babysit.” He said they have to keep re-educating parents as they have an integral role in their children’s transformation.

Asked about some of the misconceptions about youth and crime, Sharbodie responded, “Young people are not bad, they make poor choices. If left unattended, it blossoms into criminal behaviour.

If there is early intervention it is more effective.” He said young people put up superficial walls that manifest in them wearing sagging pants, smoking marijuana and engaging in promiscuity but they are really hurting. Adults have to apply their listening skills, to both verbal and non-verbal cues, without being judgemental. Sharbodie said one has to plant a seed and water it, and will sometimes get results faster than other times.

“You have to have a little bit of tolerance.” Many people talk to youths but do not inspire them, Sharbodie said, adding he shares with them his personal story of growing up on Nelson Street, Port-of- Spain, his parents dying at age 14 and having to work and go to school.

“If sir make it, I could make it,” he explained.

Sharbodie added that through their male mentorship programme they have been able to help young men who are angry and hopeless. He praised Pastor Clive Dottin, a Seventh-day Adventist elder and former independent senator, who pioneered their male support group which provides a space for young men to share, talk, cry and receive encouragement.

However, there were cases where more could have been done to save the youths, Sharbodie said, but the club lacked the time and had limited resources and had to refer some members to another agency which was “heartbreaking”.

One of the lives he has positively influenced was Ian Williams from Picton Road, Laventille, who had three brothers killed by gang members and the other three charged for murder. Williams, 16, has become an executive member of the club.

He also spoke of a young girl from St Barb’s who men only wanted to have sex with after she her mother died. However, at the club she was able to find men who would treat her like a father.

There was also a young homeless man, who the club was able to take in and get enrolled in YTEPP, and another man whose stepfather put him out but was able to finish school with five passes.

He recalled one case of a young man whose mother said she was fed up and “on her last”.

After a tough first week with him not listening, the young man decided to learn to play the pan and drumming. He traveled with the club when they visited Los Angeles and Brooklyn and was enrolled in Servol.

Sherry Hosein, who has cerebral palsy and is the mother of a 12-year-old boy, Emmanuele, said her son needed a father and she would choose no one but officer Sharbodie to act as that role model.

“The club has benefited him a lot and continues to do a lot,” she said.

Sharbodie observed a police youth club cannot call itself such, if children are not transformed and their lives touched.

He is satisfied that he was able to bring spirituality into the group in a unique way, and that the members were not only told about the goodness of God but see it through daily life.

“We lead by example.

Young people are looking not only for people who does talk, but who walk the walk.” Sharbodie thanked the tutors who provided their service pro bono but who could use a stipend.

The club has also been supported by the UK Women’s Club, the American Embassy, which refurbished the club in 2001, the Citizen Security Programme, which donated a bus, the Lion’s Club, Rotary Club, the Canadian High Commission and British High Commission.

He also thanked his wife Christine and sons, Jabari and Diamond, for their support and also the club’s volunteers.

As part of their 25th anniversary, the club is planning a career day, featuring alumni members who now work in various fields; a gospel concert; a family and fun day; a public speaking discussion; an Easter variety concert featuring past members, including reggae singer Jah Melody and media personality Jason Williams; a University of the West Indies panel discussion on the relevance of youth clubs; panel discussion on youth and crime and an awards ceremony.

Sharbodie hopes that other police youth clubs will eventually become full-time centres, like St James, and places where young people know they can receive help without judgment or intimidation.

.



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