Northeast Opportunities for Wellness, Inc. (NOW) will offer free training to area youth sports organizations in the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children program over the spring and fall sports seasons. The program, which teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, is designed for individuals concerned about the safety of children as well as organizations that serve youth. The training is supported by grant funds NOW received from the Northeast Connecticut Women & Girls Fund with the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.
NOW is a 501(c)(3) non-profit human services organization focused on youth wellness. Serving the 10-town area of Northeast Connecticut, NOW provides children with the opportunity to participate in area athletics programs and other activities, offering scholarship assistance as well as nutrition and fitness training. In July of 2016, NOW merged with the Exchange Club of Northeast Connecticut, a long-running youth serving organization focused on the prevention of child abuse and creating safe communities. The merger allowed NOW to include child abuse prevention as a new branch of the organization’s mission of supporting and promoting youth wellness.
In late 2016, NOW applied for grant funds from the Northeast Connecticut Women & Girls Fund with the intention to use the funds to provide Stewards of Children training to partner youth organization boards and coaches. Stewards of Children is the only nationally available program scientifically proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child-protective behaviors.
Over two sessions in February of 2017, NOW worked with an authorized Stewards of Children facilitator to train NOW staff and Board members, as well as representatives from partner organizations. Training sessions are currently being scheduled over the upcoming months for coaches working with children during the spring sports season. Additional sessions will be held during the summer and fall months, as needed.
NOW Executive Director Sarah Mortensen commented, “Our goal is to ensure that children have a healthy foundation, and part of building that foundation is to guarantee that children are safe when engaging with adults. With so many youth sports organizations relying on volunteer coaches, it is important to NOW that all adults working with children have the tools and training to ensure safe play and that best practices are being observed.” Long-term, the goal for the program is for NOW and other partner organizations to become “Partners in Prevention” with 90% or more of employees and volunteers who interact with youth receiving the training.