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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Innovative and Empowering CARE Now Program to Partner This Fall with Norfolk's Blocker YMCA

By Brendan O'Hallarn

"All right, everyone gather in the middle. It's time for group activity."

Jenny Goff, facilitator of the CARE Now program, urges a few dozen pre-teen kids to rise from conversations and arts and crafts in the Blair Middle School cafeteria in Norfolk. A modified game of tag is planned, utilizing bandanas to tie legs together. That is, if the students will pay attention.

"If we don't listen, we don't get to play," warns Goff, who earned her Ph.D. in human movement sciences from Old Dominion University in May. Warnings ignored, the activity is canceled for the day. A tiny battle lost, but a lesson learned, in the ongoing effort to build character and resiliency in young people facing daily challenges in their lives.

CARE Now (Character and Resiliency Education: Now) was created in 2007 by Tammi Milliken, associate professor of counseling and human services, and Eddie Hill, assistant professor of human movement sciences. It started at Norfolk's Blair Middle School and this fall will move to Larchmont Elementary, in partnership with the Blocker Norfolk Family YMCA.

With its primary goal of enhancing academic achievement, the after-school program is geared toward easing the transition to middle school and high school for disadvantaged students with poor academic records and insufficient coping skills.

The program also offers an opportunity for Old Dominion undergraduate and graduate students in the counseling and human services and human movement sciences departments to gain valuable field placement, practicum and internship experience in local public schools. In turn, the program is helping produce positive results in many of the young lives these students touch.

"The CARE Now program has positively impacted hundreds of ODU students through service-learning options, taught thousands of Norfolk Public Schools students about character and resilience, and produced evidence-based practices for others to replicate," Hill said.

The CARE Now program has included both in-school programming, with undergraduate and master's level human services and counseling students providing assistance in math classes, and after-school programming, led by students in park, recreation and tourism studies.

Goff, who managed CARE Now as her graduate assistantship for her Ph.D. program, spent seven years on and off with the program.

"We've had students who came here as middle schoolers come back as student workers. There are so many experiences and memories created every day," she said.

Milliken said CARE Now has also provided research opportunities for graduate students in her field of counseling and human services and in recreation. She and Hill have co-written nearly 10 scholarly publications based on the groundbreaking work done by CARE Now.

This fall, the program will change with the beginning of the formal partnership with the Blocker YMCA. Hill said the YMCA provides financial support in the form of paid staff to run the after-school programming. That will provide continuity of programming during Old Dominion's spring and fall breaks.

Hill said the Blocker YMCA is also eager to partner with Milliken and himself on research projects.

"I think this is a better, more sustainable model for the program," he said.

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