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September 27, 2010

Club Leader Teaches Challenged Kids to Expand Their World

  • Dr. Scheurich, here with her dog Brandi, sees kids' lives change for the better when they work collectively to help animals. Dr. Cherie Scheurich

  • Through their Opportunities for Action club, Darnetta Glover, Malcolm Bolden, and Dr. Scheurich (left to right) give troubled teens the tools to help others—and themselves. Dr. Cherie Scheurich

by Janice Krish

Who hasn’t run into the reclusive teen who barely mumbles a hello or the one who doesn't want to be bothered beyond the next text? But it's not every day you meet the teen that has problems so severe that they've landed in a group home. Even rarer is to see these kids move beyond their own hardships and find a way to not only care about animals, but become some of the greatest young activists we've seen.

"Amazingly, when kids come in, often severely traumatized, they have a hollow and empty identity with no goals, only survival mechanisms focused on themselves," says Cherie Scheurich, Ph.D., LPC, CHES, and advisor of the Opportunities for Action (OFA) club in New Jersey. "By the time they leave, between 6 to 12 months later, many are transformed into high-level thinkers with numerous global goals." 

By working with co-leadership advisors Darnetta Glover and Malcolm Bolden and using resources from The HSUS, Dr. Scheurich and her team have turned kids from shy to outspoken, from negative to passionate, and from standing alone to being a part of a strong team.  

So how exactly do you turn a young person's life around? 

"We teach them to take off the blinders and look at the suffering in the world.  We promote empathy and the connection of all living beings," says Dr. Scheurich. “When we are aware of the suffering of others, our own problems seem much smaller and easier to solve."

She shares this story:  

"One young man came to us with a history of struggles and I asked him to identify his 'global goals.' He told me, 'I don’t have no global goals; I just want to make money.' He didn’t even want to attend our OFA meetings. At that time, our club’s campaign was to Prevent Dogfighting.  I showed the kids a video, “Life on a Chain.” It just so happened that this boy had a pit bull at home that he loved and missed very much. After seeing the video, he told me that he is a visual learner and that he didn’t realize the suffering until he actually saw it with his own eyes. From that point on, he began to become interested in OFA and he was elected President of the club by his peers."

Mobilizing young people

The club teaches leadership skills and techniques for democratic management, and the kids vote on what animal issue or community problem they will tackle. In the recent Prevent Dogfighting campaign, they learned about canine cruelty, clues to identifying dogfighting, resources to use, and how to activate their own training group to teach other kids. They even did a homemade cookie fundraiser and donated the money to The HSUS.

"The students did two great dogfighting prevention presentations—one for another group home and one for their school," said Dr. Scheurich. "They used the materials from The HSUS and put together their own PowerPoint presentation with a lot of pictures. They were great."  

Their current initiative is factory farming, and their goal is to raise $2,000 for the Factory Farming campaign. They encourage their families to buy cage-free eggs, practice Meatless Mondays and Thursdays, and boycott fast food restaurants.

The level of enthusiasm is so great that students want to expand their club so more people can be aware of animal cruelty. As one member says, “I wish more people would open their eyes to see what is going on.”

About 27 kids go through the program each year, and Dr. Scheurich, who plans to keep them involved even after they are discharged, sees firsthand the difference it makes in their lives—and, by extension, in their communities as well. "I believe we are changing the world for the better—one person at a time."

Janice Krish is the student outreach and communications coordinator for The HSUS.

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