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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Adults wanting to make a difference in a kid’s life this summer and beyond still have time to sign up to be a mentor for the Drug Education For Youth program.

DEFY coordinator Sherril Light is also looking for students to join the program, which starts next month for ages 9 through 12.

Studies show that’s the average age kids begin to experiment with drugs.

“It might be a cigarette, it might be a drink,” Light said, “who knows. But if they start, it’s harder to keep them off other drugs.”

DEFY began in 1993 as a Navy youth outreach program using military role models to promote social skills and alternatives to drug use in young people. The Defense Department-funded initiative has since been adopted by the Air Force, Light said.

Misawa’s DEFY dates to 2000; this year, 23 students graduated from the program.

Misawa’s DEFY begins each summer with camp in August and picks up again in September, where for nine months mentors meet with youths at least once a month to educate them on peer pressure, cultural differences, physical fitness, citizenship, good health, the dangers of illegal drugs and other topics. DEFY members last year visited an orphanage at Christmas, sold cocoa for tsunami relief, went ice skating and toured 35th Security Forces Squadron, where they met one of the military’s drug-sniffing dogs.

“We did all these things, and so much more, to teach the kids in a fun and exciting manner the benefits of being law-abiding citizens in today’s society,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Nina Vargas, a DEFY mentor, in her speech at Misawa’s DEFY graduation ceremony in May.

Light is accepting mentor applications through Thursday. Servicemembers must be at least 18; other adults, 21, though Light said she’s accepting high school seniors looking for community-service hours. Applicants must pass a background check.

Mentorship training takes place Friday through Monday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Building 1025. Active-duty personnel may apply for permissive temporary duty to attend.

Mentor volunteers “gain insight into what’s going on in the minds of youth,” Light said. “You’re more aware of how your positive role-modeling affects one person and you’re more aware of how negative behavior has a domino effect.”

Misawa’s DEFY camp runs Aug. 1-8 for ages 9-12, as long as they’re entering grade 4, 5 or 6 this fall. Children may apply up until Aug. 1.

Camp and mentor applications are available at

The program is free. The DEFY budget allocates about $300 per student, which covers transportation and activity fees, as well as meals and snacks. Participants receive a free backpack, water bottle, T-shirt and sweat shirt, all with the DEFY logo.

“They wear that to every event,” Light said. “That’s their uniform.”

Call DSN 226-6023 for more information about DEFY or how to join the program.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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