Keeping an eye on a positive future

The Gardner News
Andrew Mansfield, reporter

GARDNER On Friday afternoon at the Gardner High School library, the Gardner Boys & Girls Club held a celebration for 10 students who recently completed the All Stars Pre­vention program.

The club, which focuses on how to meet goals and avoid behaviors that could lead them astray,is f or Gardner schoolchildren in grades five through eight. For 14 weeks, instructors guided students through peer discussions on their aspirations and provided education on the risks associated with using drugs and alcohol, as well as violence.
“All Stars had a very simple goal of getting kids to think about what they wanted for their future,” instructor Kendra Kilian said.

The program curriculum addressed how a person’s actions have impact on their reputation. It also addressed the prevalence of drug and alcohol use among youth; that it may not be as popular as the students presumed.

“They’re not alone when they want to say no,” Kilian said.

Students were encouraged to list features they do want in their life; features they thought of included achievement, independence and creativity. Conversely, students also thought about features they do not want in their life; some of those were conflict and selfishness.

Fifth-graders Angela Hill and Jamielix Torres gave speeches about their experience in the program. Hill said that she wants to be an actress and an engineer when she grows up.

She said she learned that using drugs or alcohol could lead to her life taking a “turn for the worst” and that the program “taught me to stay drugs and alcohol free.”

Torres said one of her goals is to be become a teacher.

“All Stars helped me with my future,” she said.

Local donors to the Gardner Boys & Girls Club who have endured family tragedies from drug addiction were in attendance.

James Fletcher, owner of W.J. Graves Construction in Templeton, attended with his wife, Joyce. Their son Kevin died in 2014 when he was 31.

Patti Bergstrom, owner of the downtown Gardner business The Velvet Goose, also attended. Her daughter Sherri Michelle Bergstrom Brooks died at the age of 27 this January.

Becoming involved with the Gardner club has been a way for the local families to give back and promote positive youth development.

“It became really clear to us that yes, this was the right thing to do because our son Kevin loved children,” Joyce Fletcher said.

“Boys & Girls Club for us is personal,” Bergstrom said. “We couldn’t save our own children, but maybe we can save others.”

The parents commented on how drug use among youth can start with experimentation with marijuana or alcohol and progress to other drugs such as opioids.

James Fletcher said his son Kevin first started smoking marijuana at age 13 and as the years went on addiction “slowly took over his life.” He commented that for youth it “can be easy to drift” down the wrong path.

Teaching about topics such as sex, drugs and alcohol is known to be a hot-button issue among parents, and only children whose parents gave their consent to participating in the All Stars program did.

When it comes to drug use and addiction, Bergstrom and the Fletchers indicated thinking it is a subject better taught earlier than later.

“It’s the things that kill you that the kids don’t understand,” Joyce Fletcher said.
Bergstrom commented that sometimes parents have the idea of “not my kid” when it comes to drug addiction, but even if a child is well-loved and cared for, it could still happen.

“We’re living proof it’s an equal opportunity destroyer,” she said.

The Gardner Boys & Girls Club is a program of its parent club, the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.

This is the second year the program has been in Gardner at the high school. The first year it was for children in grades five through seven and this year it was expanded to also include the eighth grade.

Donata Martin, the executive director for the Fitchburg and Leominster Boys & Girls Club, said the first two years in Gardner have been “very positive.”

The ultimate goal among staff and donors is for the Gardner club to have its own site. The Gardner club will have a summer camp this year, funded from donations made in memory of Sherri Michelle Bergstrom Brooks.

All Stars Prevention is a company that developed the curriculum the Boys & Girls Club purchased. Instructors were given training before teaching students.

In addition to fifth-graders Angela Hill and Jamielix Torres, other fifth-graders who completed the program are Jaime Corral, Jaila Figueroa, Neveah Cappello-Ramsay, Matthew Delisle, Ella Brothers and Isabella Duval.

Eighth-graders Abigail Jean-Baptiste and Kayden Jacobs also completed the program.