It’s time to take the ‘NEXT STEP’

First, there was Challenge Day.

To date, 3,400 Terrebonne and Lafourche parish middle and high school students have accepted the offer. The daylong workshop asks participants to drop their public personas and share their real selves … below the waterline. The self that battles the daily struggles, fears and shame.

By day’s end, the youngsters generally accept the real challenge: to “Be the Change.” That is, to be the one who treats others with compassion and kindness, accepting and embracing their differences.

The program asks participants to adopt a three-step approach to change – notice the problem, choose the best response and act accordingly.

Challenge Day is the brainstorm of Yvonne and Rich Dutra St. John. They founded the California-based nonprofit group in 1987. Since then, Challenge Day has reached more than 1 million youth in 400 cities, 45 U.S. states and five provinces of Canada.

The St. John’s designed the program “to build connection and empathy, and to fulfill our vision that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated. Challenge Day,” they say, “is more than a one-day program. It is the spark that ignites a movement of compassion and positive change, known as the “Be the Change” movement.

Five of the Tri-Parish Times staffers have served as past adult volunteers at Terrebonne school sessions. We experienced firsthand how Challenge Day tackles head-on issues common to teens: cliques, gossip, rumors, negative judgments, teasing, harassment, isolation, stereotypes, intolerance, racism, sexism, bullying, violence, homophobia, hopelessness, apathy and hidden pressures to create an image, achieve or live up to the expectations of others.

With the backing of the Rotary Club of Houma, District Attorney’s Offices in Terrebonne and Lafourche, the public and private school systems and a number of volunteers, the program continues to touch lives – those of the students and the adults.

And now, it’s time to take the “Next Step.”

That’s the next course in the Challenge Day events. The three-day program gets under way Friday in Houma, at the Woodman of the World facility on South Hollywood Road. The Dutra St. Johns are expected to be in town to lead the session.

As the name suggests, “Next Step” aims to connect, inspire and help people of all ages and walks of life, according to Janabeth “JB” Daigle, who has spearheaded the effort to bring the program to the Tri-parishes.

Originally created with educators and students in mind, the program can be equally affective to individuals interested in growing, changing and creating relationships that are based on deep, lasting connections, Daigle said. She’s challenging business leaders, parents and those who live or work with young people to register.

For more information about taking the “Next Step,” contact Daigle at