MAHOPAC, N.Y. - As a parent and a former teacher, I was told to always look at the strengths in your children and emphasize improving those wonderful talents and attributes that come naturally. As a community, we realize that helping our children thrive is a priority, but is that enough to support our children as they grow older and move into a world that we have less control over because of new technology, social media and media in general? The truth is we won’t always be there to help lead our youth through the difficult crossings they will face in adolescence. Despite all our efforts, our community is not without dangers. Sometimes our kids will face them alone.

That reality really hit home for me when Drug Crisis in Our Backyard partnered with Yorktown Citizens Task Force Against Heroin last July to sponsor Davide Gristina’s self-defense classes. Gristina, the owner of Krav Maga New York, which offers a self-defense training organization serving the greater Putnam, Westchester and Orange county communities, said: “We have a wonderful community, but violence is real and so are drugs. If we close our eyes thinking, ‘not in my backyard,’ we’re simply rendering ourselves vulnerable and giving ourselves only the option to succumb. If we face the reality that those dangers are real and learn the tools to face it, we have a good chance of overcoming.”

Hearing that and seeing the success in program participation from children and parents, I felt strongly that this was a model that should be brought to Mahopac. So rare are the opportunities for parents and their children to work together the way they do in Gristina’s classes. I thought, “What would a program like this have done for our son Justin? What could this do for our children now?”

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Drug Crisis in Our Backyard will host with co-sponsor, the Italian American Club of Mahopac, a free four-week series at the Italian American Club (141 Buckshollow Road, Mahopac) every Monday, Nov. 2 through Nov. 23, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Parents and children ages 8-16 are welcome and encouraged to attend one or more classes.

Gristina’s class provides a rare opportunity for parents and children to share in a unique bonding experience through which they can learn and grow together. In between wrist grabs and strikes, the program offers our youth a chance to uncover that they already are self-reliant and able to cope in the face of danger. Following each class’ warm-up and self-defense tactics, Gristina dedicates time to cultivate character development, using acting to foster the value of qualities like modesty, courtesy and assertiveness. It’s a lesson in self-discovery as much as self-defense.

It’s only natural for us as parents, teachers and community leaders to want to be the safety net that provides our youth with a constant source of reassurance. If we settle to simply become the net rather than equipping our youth with the tools they need to be the net for themselves, we only set them up for future hardship. For there will be a day when they are faced with a difficult situation and we aren’t able to be there to prevent their fall.

As a community, we need to think more about building a foundation that empowers all children and young adults to develop their own voice of reassurance that guides them to make smart choices for themselves. It’s that solid foundation that this program seeks to build by offering our youth the skills they need to overcome bullying, teasing and peer pressure.

The combined components of this self-defense class—from active role playing to self-defense tactics and character development—ultimately promote what is probably our community’s greatest collective hope for our youth: self worth.

Susan Salomone is the co-founder of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard.