Weikart Family Foundation Grants Help Expand Reach of ProjectTRUST

Recent Addition of Blanchester and East Clinton Extends Middle School Program to Four Clinton County Schools

July 23, 2012

Wilmington College believes its character-building, education program known as ProjectTRUST is significantly improving the culture in local schools by addressing bullying.

More than $20,000 in grants from the Weikart Family Foundation allowed ProjectTRUST’s reach to expand in 2012 to now include all four Clinton County school districts.

Established in 1992, the anti-bullying intervention program offers partial and full-day sessions in schools, and features three-day retreats that teach respect, understanding and student teamwork to middle school and high school students.

Jim Boland, professor of education and director of the Peace Resource Center at WC, serves as ProjectTRUST’s executive director.

“ProjectTRUST exposes students to the basic concept that, whether or not you are friends with someone, you should treat them with respect and dignity,” he said.

Boland and ProjectTRUST have a longtime relationship with middle schools in the Wilmington and Clinton-Massie school districts but only recently — as a result of the Weikart grants — were Blanchester and East Clinton able to enter the program.

“We now have all four county schools, which has been a goal of the program,” Boland said, adding that Greenfield School District in Highland County also joined recently.“

We’d like to have ProjectTRUST in every southwest Ohio school — really in every Ohio school for that matter.”

Boland said it would take support like that provided by the Michigan-based Weikart Family Foundation for ProjectTRUST to sustain these programs, let alone continue to expand. He praised the foundation for its confidence in the program, which, he believes, is making a difference at member schools.

“We know a lot of problems in schools develop as a result of conflict between various clique groups,” he said. “Certain students are chosen to participate in ProjectTRUST because they are seen as leaders in their school — in some cases, they’re opinion leaders from groups with less than desirable characteristics.”

Leaders of all kinds of school cliques are identified by school officials and invited to participate as opinion leaders placed in “family” groups for the weekend in an away-from-school setting like the woodland environs of nearby Camp Kern.

Wilmington College students, staff from participating schools and others interested persons from the community have completed training and serve as counselors and facilitators.

The ProjectTRUST participants learn through empathy how put-downs can harm a person and they engage in problem-solving and trust-building exercises with those with whom they might not normally interact.

Boland said the increasing popularity of social media has created additional — and often more insidious — vehicles for tormenting youth, as “cyber-bullying” has become an especially effective method employed by girls to psychologically break down their prey.

“It used to be kids got picked on at school and came home to a safe haven, but with social media, it’s 24 hours a day if you let it,” he said.

Boland added that the middle school years are an especially vulnerable time for youth as, developmentally, at that age, they’re “pulling away” from their parents and trying to figure out where they fit in social situations.

“We have no doubt ProjectTRUST is part of the answer, an antidote for creating a different, healthier culture,” he said.