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Character Community event tackling sex trafficking, gangs, youth suicide

The Nov. 27 Leading with Character breakfast learning series is taking aim at some of the most dangerous and serious issues facing youth in our community: guns and gangs, sex trafficking and rising rates of suicide
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Supplied photo/Character Community

York Region’s annual Character Community breakfast learning series is taking aim at some of the most dangerous and serious issues threatening youth in our community.

As much as you don’t want to believe it — and many parents and other adults are in denial — guns and gangs in our schools, human sex trafficking and rising rates of youth suicide are “very real” concerns right across York Region, according to Susanne Cappuccitti, executive director of the Character Community.

And Cappuccitti knows character development programs can play a key role in helping young people make the right decisions when coming face to face with these issues.

“Character is a force — an inner guide — that can stop them from taking the wrong path,” she said.

The Nov. 27 Leading with Character event features a panel that includes: York Regional Police Const. Jess Mann of the drugs/vice unit and Det. Danielle Beaulieu of the special victims unit; Victim Services of York Region program manager Lisa Woodcock; Pflag Canada, York Region, director of support and and resources David Collict; Cappuccitti; and students and staff from York Region schools.

Concerns expressed by students, school administrators and community partners who are dealing with these difficult issues provided the fuel for the Character Community to address them and help create awareness through the breakfast learning series.

Sex trafficking, in particular, is an issue that people have trouble accepting is happening in our communities, Cappuccitti said, or that it only involves youth who are “troubled” or homeless.

“No, these are girls who are living in nice homes and who are coming home every night,” she said. “And by the time parents find out, they are so far gone, so destroyed by the experience.”

Tweens and young teenagers are approached by older teen boys, often outside of schools, at the mall and public libraries.

“Most people imagine it’s men who are traffickers, and girls being abducted and forced into slave labour; it’s not. It’s teens trafficking teens.”

Parents aren’t questioning where their daughters are getting the new clothes and other gifts.

“Parents are up against a huge challenge, we’re not condemning them,” Cappuccitti added, saying the Character Community’s intent is to create awareness and collaboration, and provide support.

“It’s happening, every day in our community. An officer told me they get two to three calls a week,” she added.

In the Social Justice Day program that the Character Community offers to grades 6 to 7 students in the region’s school, the most requested topic is gangs, Cappuccitti said.

“We tell them, this is how you become involved in a gang — it’s not what you see on TV — and how hard it is to get out, you don’t have to go down that road.”

Hate crimes is another topic in demand, with school administrators — even at the elementary level — expressing concerns about racial slurs occurring in their schools.

Hate crimes and bullying are causing too many youth to choose suicide, Cappuccitti said.

“It’s happening at an increasing rate in our communities, but it’s often kept secret.”

Young people’s savvy with technology and social media platforms presents a challenge even to adults and parents who are involved in their children’s activities.

“Character is a big piece of all of this,” Cappuccitti said. “We draw on it to get us through the hard stuff. We can use the power that’s inside us to do the right thing.”

“We are trying to be proactive, to help kids navigate the challenges they will face, and give people a reminder how much character matters,” she added.

The Leading with Character Breakfast is Nov. 27 from 7:30 to 10 a.m. at the Community Safety Village, 3291 Stouffville Rd., Stouffville. For tickets, $100, or $750 per table, contact Leslie Bubeloff at 905-895-5155, visit www.charactercommunity.com or email character.community@york.ca