October 16, 2014
“TOP® (the Teen Outreach Program) is a safe place to let out our opinions and views, where there is mutual respect and we do not judge one another,” states Red Bank Regional (RBR) senior Jorge Benavides from Red Bank. Jorge, 17 years-old, recently became the first RBR student to complete the facilitator’s program so he can co-facilitate the nationally acclaimed program in his high school.
TOP®, a program developed by the Wyman Center, is offered at New Jersey high schools by the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium (CJFHC) and is, in RBR’s case, in collaboration with The SOURCE, RBR’s School Based Youth Services Program. SOURCE Clinician Becky Stevenson, who co-facilitates the program with CJFHC Amy Smuro, recruits RBR freshmen participants for the program which occurs weekly during their lunch and study hall time for most of the school year. In its fourth year, the TOP® program also runs a section for sophomores and upper classman who chose to continue their participation.
The program, according to the CJFHC website, www.cjfch.org, “Promotes the positive development of adolescents through a combination of curriculum-guided group discussion and community service learning.” Examples of past RBR community service included a walk for suicide prevention, aiding the victims of Hurricane Sandy and a program supporting the LGBT community.
CJFHC TOP® facilitator Annette LaBarbera, comments, “Community service is a big part of TOP®, as the students select the program they want and take the lead, of course with the facilitator to guide them. We want them to learn from the experience. An important component of community service learning is reflecting on the event and celebrating what they accomplished.”
This year, the CJFHC decided to offer training to upper classmen who had been involved with the program since freshman year. Jorge Benavides was the only RBR student who was able to complete the four-day training over the summer, the same program that all adult facilitators take. He was instructed on the history and mechanics of the program and curriculum.
Annette LaBarbera adds, “He learned how to handle difficult situations without imposing his own values on the students. He now co-facilitates the program along with the adult facilitators. ”
Jorge comments, “My responsibilities are to come to the club, create something to engage them in the lesson and make it easier so we can get work done.”
That could be challenging as Jorge explains that students learn in different ways.
He states, “I have to figure out ways for each person to become involved. Some are visual learners, others logical and others kinetic. Therefore, I may suggest the visual-learner create posters, which the hands-on or kinetic learner may distribute. The logical learner would help solve problems. We also play music in the background because it also helps some students with their concentration. I think that is something that could be applied in other classes.”
Jorge feels the most difficult part of facilitating is to maintain the “value neutral approach.”
He explains, “As a facilitator you cannot give your opinion; we touch on some controversial subjects; and everyone has different points of view and are from different walks of life. There might be a lot of things being said that you do not agree with, but you can only give them the facts and options of what their actions could generate. As a facilitator you create a feeling of safety. It does also serve to increase your own open-mindedness.”
Jorge’s own development has been greatly aided by the TOP® experience. Annette LaBarbera comments that she has “observed a shy freshman bloom into a very confident and creative young man.”
Jorge, is a carpe diem-advocate who states, “If there is an open door I always try to take it.” He has accomplished much with this positive philosophy. He is as a budding commercial artist in RBR’s Visual & Performing Arts’ Academy majoring in studio art, for which he credits his art teacher as a strong mentor. A member of the National Art Honor Society, Jorge’s career ambition is to work in the animation industry. He recently completed a Two River Theatre summer workshop which augmented his knowledge of the performing arts. He will soon introduce the RBR Hispanic Heritage Assembly Program to his fellow students along with Principal Risa Clay and will narrate a presentation created by the Multinational Club of which he is an active member.
A humble young man, Jorge is very appreciative for the opportunities he has been offered. In fact, the community service concentration was his major impetus for joining TOP®. He has been very active in his own community in helping his alma mater Red Bank Primary school as a teacher’s aide during summer school and also participated in the shoe drive for the elementary school’s DOC Shop program.
He explains, “My academy requires that I perform 15 hours of community service, but I wanted to do more than that. I always wanted to help people and reach out because the community has helped me and I want to give back.”
Meanwhile, Becky Stevenson comments on RBR’s first TOP® facilitator, “Jorge has really stepped up to every challenge we have put to him through his years in the TOP® program. So far during the first few weeks of facilitating he has done a wonderful job.”