RiverKings partner up with Exchange Club Family Center

By:Helen Rogers

The RiverKings will spotlight the mission of the Exchange Club Family Center of North Mississippi in Oxford during “Teen Night” this Friday, March 2, as the team takes on the Pensacola Ice Flyers.

Every Friday game night, the team hosts a special deal just for teens: a red level ticket, soda and popcorn for just $10. Plus, fans can nominate their favorite civic-minded teen to win the RiverKings “Teen Star” Award, which will be presented to the top three candidates on Mar. 16. RiverKings fans can also enjoy the Pre-Game Warm-Up event at local restaurant Fillin Station Grille and the T.G.I. Friday’s Post-Game Party. In addition to Friday’s festivities surrounding Teen Night, fans who like the team’s Official Facebook Page will receive $3 off a ticket to Saturday’s game, Mar. 3.

The first Exchange Club Family Center was established by the National Exchange Club in 1997, and since its founding the network of centers has grown to more than 700 clubs with over 22,000 members. The Exchange Club Family Center of Oxford serves troubled youths, children and their families across North Mississippi.

The main goal of the Exchange Club Family Center is to prevent child abuse, but the club also aims to guide at-risk youth away from lives of crime and drugs, as well as assist pregnant teenagers. Having been abused as a child, Center Executive Director Fred Johnson realized that he had a duty and a gift to give back to children still living in abusive homes.

“One important thing we’ve learned that clients want to know is, how much do you care? Why are you here?” Johnson said. “If you're here for a check, they know it. If they know you're here because you care, if they know the pay's not the important thing, then they feel like you're here for them. Once they know that, it all begins. That's a hard piece of ice to break, but once you've broken it, that's when the counseling really starts."

Johnson’s favorite Center programs are the COPES (Correcting Our Paths and Establishing Skills) and the AOP (Adolescent Offender Program) Programs. Both programs are designed to teach youth who have been in trouble with the law how to avoid becoming repeat offenders.

In addition to frequent sessions with trained counselors at the center, participants are required to continue attending school, obey a curfew, and stay out of trouble with both the police and the principal, with weekly reports from the school sent to the program’s staff. Parents are also required to attend weekly counseling sessions under court order.

The AOP program serves anywhere between 18-25 youths at any given time, while 75-100 young people go through the COPES program every year in each county served by the Exchange Club Family Center.

“We've been in this business long enough to know that we can't stop anyone, teenagers or adults, from using drugs; but we let them know that, if they want to be, they can be clean,” Johnson said. “If we can't make them quit all at once, our goal is to make them quit four or five times a year. If they can quit four or five times a year, maybe they'll quit six or seven times. They may think they can't stop, but we prove to them that they can.”

Through parenting classes, pregnant teens are taught necessary parenting skills and encouraged to seek higher education.

“The main purpose is to try to keep them on track with everything they were doing before they got pregnant – to stay in school if they’re in school, to go to college if that’s their plan,” Johnson said. “And our focus is to make sure they don’t have a second child before they’ve started on their career path.”

The class, which is free, also helps the girls to better understand what their bodies go through during pregnancy, the need for a good diet and what to expect when they go into labor.

"We cover everything from A to Z as it relates to teen pregnancy,” Johnson said. “The program's results speak for themselves. Of the 200 or so girls served in the 12 years we have been doing this program, maybe four or five have had a second child.”

The Center also strives to prevent child abuse by teaching children how to spot the warning signs of both physical and sexual abuse. The center's SCAN (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect) and STAN (Stop the Abuse Now) programs reach out to small children - from preschoolers through 2nd grade - with a colorful mascot (a singing bear named Stan), puppet shows and musical programs, even a rap song for Stan.

“The message is to reinforce, 'Say no, and get away. And tell somebody,'” Johnson said. “If somebody tries to do something to that child, we want him to focus on Stan and what Stan says to do in those situations.”

“The most rewarding part of working with The Oxford Exchange Club is seeing a child believe that he or she is special and can trust someone that believes in them,” Johnson said.

Johnson encourages people to get involved becoming a mentor, volunteering at the center, donating money, “and most of all, report everything you see to protect a child,” he said. For more information, contact Johnson at the Center at (662) 234-4255 or fajohnson2@bellsouth.net.

Maddox Hockey, Inc. is a for-profit entity created by the Maddox Foundation as a program-related investment to further the Foundation’s charitable work and promote tourism and economic development in the region, including the viability of the Landers Center. The RiverKings are supported by the team’s fans, season ticket holders, corporate partners and program-related investments of the Foundation. To find out more about the RiverKings, call 662.342.1755 or visit www.riverkings.com.

Posted by Mississippi RiverKings at 2:14 PM

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