Taking down the barriers

May 11, 2018

Euroa Christian Fellowship's George Deeble.

The following article appeared in the Denver Post in 2007 headed This is going to change people.

Wadded-up tissues littered Rishel Middle School’s gym floor as tough teenagers sobbed, hugged their peers and told gut-wrenching stories about their lives during an all-day session intended to break down barriers.

One 13-year-old said he was abandoned by his parents and that he lay awake at night, scared by the sounds of gunshots outside his window.

A 15-year-old talked about attempting suicide and urged anyone with similar thoughts to reach out for help.

And a teacher tearfully warned students about their actions by revealing he was a bully when he was younger — until the person he tormented tried to kill himself.

The confessions were shared as part of ‘‘Challenge Day’’, a nationally recognised anti-bullying program that travels to schools around the country. Challenge Day promotes self-respect and acceptance, and inspires students to become positive leaders in their schools and communities.

The 20-year-old program was designed by Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St John, who said: ‘‘We want to create a world where every child feels safe.’’

The program, which was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, was brought to the school as part of the district’s mission to change cultures in the schools.

The events combined ice-breaking routines to get students to drop their guards with soul-searching exercises designed to reveal their true selves.

Students wept as their troubles tumbled out — from worries about their parents and medical problems within the family, to troubles with gangs and battles with alcohol and drugs. Students later apologised to others who they had put down or teased over the years.

‘‘This is going to change people’’, one 13-year-old said.

‘‘I never knew people had problems with their families and their brothers and drugs. I never saw that sensitive side until now.’’

- George Deeble, Euroa Christian Fellowship

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