Since the 2001-02 school year, Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers have gone into second-grade classrooms to teach students about the harms of drugs and alcohol, the importance of asking for help when there is a problem, and how to develop good self-image. Now the team has grown in number to meet area school demands for the Beginning Awareness Basic Education Studies (BABES), a nationally recognized program. BABES, started in 1977, now reaches over a million children annually in all 50 states and five countries.
The RSVP BABES volunteers are B.J. Barnes, Sam Bass, Barb Boudry, Peg Bunker, Chad Harkins, Carole Kositzke, Jan Larson, Earl Plass, Vi Sagert, Mary Ann Van Leur, and Don Verkuilen. This year, four volunteers will join the team.
Is there a need for BABES? Statistics provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse suggest there is a need:
- 30% of children in grades 4-6 report that they received “a lot” of pressure from their classmates to drink beer; 31% to try marijuana; 34% to try cigarettes;
- 56% of students in grades 5-12 say that alcohol advertising encourages them to drink;
- One in 4 students have a parents that uses drugs or has a drinking problem
Early prevention decreases those numbers dramatically.
Our volunteers enjoy putting on the puppet shows, but take the program very seriously. Sam Bass and Peg Bunker went through BABES certification from an accredited instructor to become narrators, and bring their own experiences to the table. They lead their teams through six sessions with three RSVP-trained puppeteers behind the curtain at each school. The BABES volunteers use puppets in a manner designed to gain the attention of children and to enable them to develop good decision-making skills.
Students are tested before and after the program to demonstrate improvement and obtained knowledge. The results have been very positive. Average scores throughout the seven schools and 13 classrooms showed that 79.2% of students improved their scores and averaged nearly 88% on their final tests.
The BABES volunteers have been unsung heroes, but deserve so much more. The RSVP’s BABES program is made possible through its sponsoring agency, the Volunteer Center of East Central Wisconsin.