Let's Be Friends
LOVE, SELF-RESPECT, DECISION MAKING and PEER COUNSELING have become the cornerstones for success with teens BY ELAYNE BENNETT PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF THE BEST FRIENDS FOUNDATION
During the "You go girl!" era of the 80's, women became to become aware of how much they could benefit from participating in positive, female peer groups guided and encouraged by female mentors. Around that same time, it also became apparent to me how much troubled women were seriously lacking in these same areas—no one, it appeared, had ever talked to them about life and love, and no one was talking to them about self-respect, or self-control.
It's hard to believe that it was nearly 20 years ago when the Best Friends program began at the Georgetown University Child Development Center. At that time I was an educator beginning to observe how little was being done in the area of adolescent development, especially for pre-teen and teenage girls. Dr. Phyllis Magrab, the head of the Child Development Center, encouraged me to test the beginnings of my curriculum on friendship, love and dating, self-respect, and decision making, which was to become the basis for the Best Friends Foundation.
After field testing in a series of high schools and middle schools, I was asked to present my findings and the Best Friends model to a group of educators at the U.S. Department of Education—I happened to know the guy who was the Secretary (my husband, Bill). When I found out that the Department's adopted school was Amidon Elementary in Southwest Washington, I knew immediately that I wanted to volunteer in the classroom. There was doubt at first among some participants whether the students would listen, but the principal stood up and stated, "That's not true. Children will listen if they know you really care about them." Today, we have more than 750 girls in 22 schools throughout Washington, D.C. and nearly 5,000 girls in the urban areas of Newark, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Houston, Pittsburgh, and San Diego, and in rural areas near Amarillo, Texas, Martinsville, Virginia, and Clay County, Kentucky. After completing the curriculum— which includes group discussions on critical life choices regarding alcohol, drugs, and sex along with mentor meetings—these girls are better able to make decisions about their lives.
At Best Friends, we say, "When you ask an adolescent not to do something, you must give her or him something to do," especially when it is something "cool." Our Make Music Not Madness productions in the schools celebrate positive choices as alternatives to drugs and alcohol, and we encourage parents to attend as well. These appealing contemporary musical productions have had a significant impact on the student body and provide Best Friends and Best Men with a chance to reach out to their fellow students. Our creed is, "If we give our children our best, they will surely respond with their best." Best Friends and Best Men are living proof of that.
Rock'n with Friends