Sixth graders in gang resistance program visit Wayside Waifs for community service project

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“When we read to them they get affection. They love it when we read to them,” said Laura Marquez, a 6th Grader at James Elementary School.

Sixth grade students in a gang resistance program took a field trip to Wayside Waifs today for their community service project.

The Kansas City Police Gang Resistance Education and Training program, also known as GREAT, aims to prevent delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership.

The program is a school based curriculum taught by police officers to youth living in Kansas City school districts.

The program's aim is to stop kids from joining gangs.

To complete the GREAT program, students must complete a community service project.

Officer Liz Commino with the Kansas City, Mo. Police Department took her James Elementary students to Wayside Waifs Tuesday to read to the animals in the shelter.

“It helps them get comfortable with people, so when people check them out, they don't have to be so scared,” student Saciido Abu said.

Commino said it's a great community service project, and a chance for the kids to enjoy the animals.

“Sixth grade GREAT program, we do a community service project where they like coming out here and getting to help the animals, but they learn to not do drugs or be in gangs, not to hurt people, and just to be great kids,” Officer Commino said.

The school-based curriculum is taught by police officers to youth in Kansas City school districts.

“They teach us how to avoid situations like getting into a gang, and how to avoid bad stuff that's happening,” Marquez said. “GREAT takes you on field trips that give you a little bit of how life is going to be; they tell you what to do in situations and the circumstances that you're under.”

“Sixth grade is the age where they start to learn things, and start to be out in the neighborhoods, and we try to keep them from being around the older kids, and doing things they're not supposed to do. So if we start now, they tend to make their own choices, and not follow,” said Amy Bristow, a sixth grade teacher at James Elementary.

The goal of bringing the students to Wayside Waifs is to have them help out with the animals, and read to them, but if you ask the staff here, and their teachers, it's often times the animals that are helping the students, and leaving a lasting impression.

“The animals love having the attention and the human interaction, but I think even more than that is the gift that it gives the students ,” said Allison Basinger, the Human Education Manager at Wayside Waifs, “It's a brilliant opportunity for them to recognize how similar humans and animals really are to each other, and when we can create those connections of similarity, then students are automatically more able to empathize with those living beings outside of themselves.”

“They need a home, they can't just stay here. They need someone to take care of them, and love and care for them,” Abu said. “It's fun being there helping other animals, and maybe one day I'll volunteer here.”


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