It’s tough raising an American kid in a small Italian town.
With parents deploying from this small military community and neighbors who probably don’t speak English, it might be easy for a kid to slip through the cracks during their time in Gaeta.
But the base’s Boys and Girls Club staff is trying to overcome such difficulties through two programs — Passport to Manhood and For Girls Only — that are designed to ease the transition to becoming American adults.
The programs, which started in February and run through May, give boys ages 11 to 14 and girls between 8 and 12 a chance to learn and talk about issues ranging from drugs, sex and health to parenthood and careers.
Another For Girls Only course, starting after the current programs end, will be run for girls 13-17.
“We may be isolated, but we’re not isolated from American culture,” said parent Stacy Kirchheiner, who helped set up the program.
Gaeta has only about 500 military and civilian personnel between the command and 6th Fleet flagship USS Mount Whitney. The base is about a two-hour drive northwest of Naval Support Activity Naples.
Gaeta’s youth activities director, Kathleen Hillman, said that beyond the material covered in the programs, she hopes they will give youths more courage to talk to adults about things going on in their lives.
“It helps them talk to their parents,” she said. “It tells them ‘It’s OK to ask,’ if they didn’t know it’s OK to ask.”
During a recent session on girls, she said, boys spent nearly two hours asking questions.
“I think that’s a good sign that there’s something right with this program,” Hillman said.
Last week, Petty Officer 2nd Class William Groomes talked to a small group of four boys about being a parent during the Fatherhood and the Family segment.
Program presenters, said Hillman, are brought in from the Gaeta military community and are always familiar faces.
Groomes, a member of base security and father of a 10-year-old and a baby, is familiar to the children, which is important, Kirchheiner said.
“He also coached basketball and football, so ‘If Mr. Groomes told us, it must be true,’ ” she said. “It’s nice to see people living and working in the community coming out and teaching.”
The presenters — women for the girls program and men for the boys — are also accessible, because at a small command like Gaeta, everyone usually knows everyone else.
“It’s an excellent program,” said Kirchheiner, “especially with the boys, as daddy’s not always around to help with questions.”
And the effort to get children to become active in learning about their move toward adulthood seems to be working.
“I think it’s really helpful,” said 12-year-old Lucas Hillman, Kathleen Hillman’s son. “We learn about stuff that’s really important to our lives.”
Kirchheiner has three children in the programs — two boys and one girl. She said she’s seen positive results for her 12-year-old son, Remington.
“He’s not a very social person,” she said. “He’s a shy and quiet person, but he actually looks forward to Wednesdays. It’s helped him to open up and be more interactive.”