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CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — To help children cope with military life and all things that go along with it, the Armed Services YMCA is set to kick off a mentoring program here.

“Operation Hero” is an after- school program designed to help military children deal with everything from constant moves to the worries of a parent deploying to a combat zone, according to program director Kelly Gabayan. The program started in 1995 on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., but this is the first year it will be held on Okinawa, she said.

The program is for second- through sixth-graders and each session lasts for 10 weeks, Gabayan said. The group, limited to eight students led by one teacher, will meet twice weekly. Gabayan said the first half-hour of each meeting will be time to unwind and have a snack.

“You have to give them a break … a breather after school is over,” she said.

The second half-hour will be a lesson followed by a corresponding activity. The last 30 minutes of each gathering will be homework and study time, Gabayan said.

She added that during the 10-week course, six areas will be covered: dreams and fears, friends, conflict resolution, family life, feelings and emotions, and responsibility.

“We want to re-instill the values that are taught at home as well as guide the children to find the true heroes in themselves — whether it’s simply opening a door for someone or being responsible,” Gabayan said.

While she hopes eventually to see the program in all elementary schools on the island, the first will be Bechtel Elementary School on Camp McTureous in October. She said if the YMCA receives enough good feedback, it will consider expanding to other schools.

Even though the program’s start is months away, Gabayan said, donations for snack items and school supplies already are being accepted.

Registration is first-come, first-served. Call Gabayan at DSN 643-7377 or e-mail her at for more details.


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