Amer-I-Can focuses on self-determinationBody: When football great Jim Brown spoke at the annual Gangs Out of Downey luncheon last April 22, he announced that a branch of the Amer-I-Can Program had just recently opened at Stonewood Center. The announcement met with polite applause. It was the first time most of the large luncheon crowd, including this reporter, had heard of the program. In fact, the program has been in existence for more than 20 years. It was founded in 1988 by Brown himself after he gave up his movie career. Its stated mission: to assist one acquire the skills and tools needed to lead a more successful, productive, and fulfilling life." The whole program is built around the equation: "I Can" + "Responsibility" = "Self-Determination." The program maintains that it's applicable to all people, transcending race, age, gender, religion, and socio-economic status, and that it has proven a success in jails, prisons, juvenile probation camps, high schools, colleges, universities, businesses and communities. . Curious, I went last weekend to a summer class being conducted at Warren High School supervised by American History teacher and the session's supervising teacher, Anthony Zegarra. The 60-hour session is an elective class, and meets at 1:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday. The class has an enrollment of 25 students, composed mostly of keenly interested and bright-looking sophomores and juniors who are attending the class for credit. Zegarra said the class is the second pilot Amer-I-Can class at Warren held in the spring. He also said a similar spring class was held at Columbus High. On this particular afternoon there were 13 girls and six boys in attendance, seated in a circle with intense Julian Mendoza, the 18-year Amer-I-Can facilitator working out of Stonewood, and Zegarra at what would normally be the top of the circle, which was close to the blackboard. The circular arrangement presumably promotes a less formal, more free-wheeling atmosphere than the usual classroom seating arrangement. The text used is a professional-looking 15-chapter plastic-bound manual referred to as Amer-I-Can's "Life Management Skills/Self-Improvement Training Program," with chapters addressing nine "critical" areas: motivation, habits, and attitudes; goal-setting; effective communication; problem-solving, decision-making; emotional control; family relationships; job search/retention; financial stability; drug & alcohol abuse. I only had so much time perusing the manual because I wanted to catch the "conversation" going on between the students and the discourse leaders. But the above topic structure can be easily surmised as similar to other programs offered by a number of professional (and thriving) 'success' gurus. The topics subjected to discussion in this particular segment, at least the ones I remember, included: "The self-fulfilling prophecy," "Courage and determination," "Success fills our entire life," and "Having a dream/having a goal." Every single participant would read a paragraph, and facilitator Mendoza would invite a comment or related question from the floor. Or he would ask if everybody understood what a particular word or phrase or sentence meant. The "let-your-hair-down" proceedings provided some interesting responses and reactions. At any rate, if the intent of the program is to encourage inhibition-free outpourings of participants' thoughts and feelings, and I suspect it is, then the class cannot miss: the participants are on their way to learning concepts, values, and practical steps towards self-determination through honest, realizable self-analysis and the formation of attainable goals. The kids are picking up valuable life lessons towards self-esteem and self-actualization. All this-while earning class credit, and spending the summer in a worthwhile pursuit. The program is in stark contrast to a 10-20 class, for instance, or a juvenile delinquency or truancy program-where crime prevention or crime intervention or suppression is directly addressed. The Amer-I-Can Program addresses the development of the whole person-similar to the Character Counts program, or any of the many success-themed programs around, differing only in target audiences and other such details. We are all for this, though-never mind the repetitions, the overlappings of themes and messages, and so on: we encourage programs such as Amer-I-Can. The themes and messages they promulgate bear repeating, anyway.
********** Published: July 17, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 13