BONNERS FERRY — There were many rules to the game and the kids had to think quickly to avoid making a mistake as they threw the heavy medicine ball to one another. Standing in a circle, they could not throw to the person immediately next to them, they had to call out the person’s name that they were throwing it to, they couldn’t let the ball touch the ground, and the decisions must be made quickly as they could not hold onto the ball for longer than three seconds.
The game is part of an innovative new program run by husband and wife counseling team, Robert B. Wenzel, M.A. LCPC and Kathryn L. Wenzel MSW, LCSW, called “Night Activities.”
The fledgling Youth Mentoring Program started in January of this year and currently has about a dozen kids taking part. It is for at-risk youth, but the Wenzels stress this does not mean kids who are troublemakers. They believe all kids today are at risk.
“Anybody can get in trouble. We are not pigeon-holing kids. All kids need adults in their lives,” explained Robert Wenzel. “In sports, you have all these great coaches. They are teaching them about responsibility and respect. They get the same thing at church. They go to youth groups and they are surrounded by adults. We are catching the kids that aren’t being surrounded.”
Night Activities is a free mentoring program where adult volunteers, who are trained by the Wenzels, work directly with the kids to teach them three main principles: accountability, responsibility and respect.
The experiential program consists of fun games that require paying attention to rules, as well as wilderness activities with an emphasis on survival skills. They operate in 10-week sessions, meeting Friday nights for an hour and a half.
According to the statement on their website, “Each session focuses on activities to help facilitate the reinforcement of structure, limits, and expectations, and enable the participant to learn self-reliance, self- control, and about their self-esteem.”
At the beginning of the session they stand in a circle and recite a statement.
“They actually have to memorize what we call the 21 Points,” said Robert Wenzel. “It is a commitment to being accountable, responsible, respectful, and mature.”
The program relies on mentors and they are always looking for volunteers. They would love to have first responders and law enforcement involved, but any adult that is accountable, responsible, respectful, and mature, would be welcome. They must pass a background check, but will receive free training. The whole time commitment is about three hours a week.
“We are looking for people that have a heart to want to work with kids,” said Kathryn Wenzel.
Robert Wenzel encourages people who love outdoor activities.
“Come and join us. Let us take these kids up in the woods and teach them how to camp, how to have fun out in the woods, fishing and hunting,” he said. “That is what these kids need.”
Although the Night Activities are currently taking place in the Boundary County Middle School gym, they are gearing up to move outdoors. In preparation, and as part of the program, they teach the kids the Ten Essentials and ABCs of First Aid.
The idea for this program started when the Wenzels first moved to Boundary County in 2015. Robert Wenzel had run a similar program years before in Colorado Springs. When Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer took over as sheriff, they approached him about counseling inmates in the jail.
“That is where we started seeing this issue with the youth, because all these guys in jail all graduated or dropped out of high school here, and they all started doing drugs and doing stupid things very young,” said Robert Wenzel. “This is a bigger problem than people are seeing. We are not talking about drinking Budweiser and smoking a joint, we are talking opiates, heroin, and meth. And this is in high school.”
By giving kids a program that teaches them structure, limits, and expectations, and giving them fun activities that redirect inappropriate behaviors, it helps the kids learn to be responsible adults.
The Wenzels offer this for free, and kids are recommended for the program by teachers and parents. Anyone who thinks their child may benefit from the program are welcome to contact the Wenzels.
The Wenzels have chosen to do this as their way of giving back to the community, but they also enjoy what they are doing.
“I get to have fun. That is a key piece,” said Robert Wenzel. “I have worked with kids for the last 35 years and this is the best part — having fun with them. I work in the office all week long and this gets me outside.”
Kathryn Wenzel most enjoys, “being there to serve and work in a capacity that we are professionally trained for.”
For those who are interested in volunteering to be a mentor or have a child they would like to participate in the program, they can contact the Wenzels at 208-267-9228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information: www.artofredirection.com