Personal empowerment safety program radKids of Lake Norman has been equipping youth in the area with hands-on training to help enhance their quality of life for years.
Husband and wife duo David and Karen Fisher started the program in 2013 and are nationally certified instructors.
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“I became a mom in 2009 and 2010 and I realized that as my children became older that they needed situational awareness skills as much as adults do,” Karen said. “So I started looking around for specific programs and found radKIDS. It is a national child safety program. They go to schools or they bring in community initiatives like police departments or school districts to nationally certify instructors.”
This program sparked Karen’s interest. She not only wanted her kids to be a part of this experience, but herself as well.
“I actually became very interested in becoming an instructor, so I contacted the executive director about becoming an instructor and being an independent person like myself and like my husband, we are not in a police department, we are not in a school, we are just independent on our own,” Karen said.
After months of persistence, the Fishers were able to take an instructor class and become certified.
“In November 2013 we were off and running but we started it at our house with a little preschool program with like six kids … preschoolers and from there we kind of just ramped up the program,” Karen said.
From humble beginnings the program has continued to grow through word of mouth.
“Long story short we have empowered over 2,500 children in our community at this point,” Karen said.
It is a 10-hour, drill-based program including role playing that puts the kids in certain scenarios that they might face in their real life, Karen said.
The scenarios give the kids options and plans on how to keep themselves safe, creating a memory base for reactions.
“Procedural memory is what we all need children through senior citizens to (have to) react instinctively to danger, violence or harm… kids deserve that just as much as adults,” Karen said.
When the Fishers start a new class, one of the first questions they ask the children in attendance is “Who is in charge of your safety?.” That gets them thinking.
“Ninety-nine percent of them, if not 100 percent, will say my mom or my dad,” Karen said. “Then I will look around and say, ‘Where is your mom or dad now? They are not with you so who is in charge of your safety’ and that really gets them thinking, ‘Wait, wait my mom and dad aren’t with me so if they aren’t with me who is going to keep me safe?’”
After they answer, the Fishers will then explain that the children themselves are in charge of their own safety.
“That is when the empowerment begins that is the seed and within those 10 hours it grows abundantly into a full awareness program for them,” Karen said.
Throughout the program there are three things all radKIDS know, she said.
First, no one has the right to hurt them because they are special. “I ask the kids on the first day of class to close their eyes and point to the most important person in the room they point to me or him or if their parent is in the room they will point to their parent and very rarely they will point to themselves so we change that mindset.”
Second, they don’t have the right to hurt anyone either, including a conversation about drugs, alcohol, smoking, self-harm “things like that but if someone is trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them.”
Third, if anyone does try to hurt, trick or make them feel bad, it’s not their fault.
These three things are addressed in drills to include defense against bullying, gun safety, fire safety, home safety, outside safety, bike safety, vehicle safety, school safety, internet safety, strangers, 911 and good, bad, unwanted touch.
“They are able number one to recognize any type of danger, violence or harm and if they can recognize it quickly they can avoid it and stay safe,” Karen said. “And if they can’t avoid it we teach them how to respond and escape if necessary.”
The radKIDS program also helps the children differentiate when a person might be a threat to them based on their behaviors.
“The funniest thing I like to inform them of is if you can’t talk to strangers how can you make new friends,” Karen said. “As adults, all of our parents taught us ‘don’t talk to strangers, don’t talk to strangers’ which makes us think that strangers are bad.”
Not all strangers are bad in fact most strangers are actually good strangers, Karen said.
“So instead of talking about the dangers of strangers we start trying to give them hints or clues to the differences between good people and bad people,” Karen said.
They also teach physical resistance skills, which Karen calls “realistic fight skills.”
“It’s not martial arts, it is save-myself skills, do whatever you have to do to get yourself out of that situation and get safe so on top of all the drills that we do and the talks that we have they learn the skills,” Karen said.
The children get to work with pads and a punching dummy to practice physical resistance. They then use those skills in a simulated realistic environment at the end of the program.
David simulates an attack on a child in a padded aggressor suit, picking up the child. The children can fight back without injuring him while keeping everyone safe.
“They get worried and afraid and scared of the situation, but not in a bad way because it is controlled and I am right beside of them,” Karen said.
“They do get that feeling of if this were real this is what it would look like and feel like and sound like and smell like and all of that so that becomes embedded in their brain… you have to pepper, you have to hammer fist in the nose, you have to kick him in the groin, you have to elbow them, you have to do all of this. And I’m allowing you to do this because you are not going to do it unless you are allowed to do it.
“So it’s really empowering; it can be a life changer. We have had multiple saves meaning disclosures from children who have been sexually abused or physically abused,” she said.
The Fishers have previously reached out to child protective services or law enforcement to help some children who were able to recognize the signs that were taught to them through radKIDS.
“Every time I get choked up when a child I have bonded with says I need to talk to you in private and I know what is coming,” Karen said. “I feel like I am put here for this … to save them. If I never taught this class again after one of those disclosures I would be OK because I saved that one child and that’s what it means to me.”
Those are challenging things to face, but also the driving force behind the program.
“It (radKIDS) takes you from ‘Help me, help me’ to ‘How dare you try to hurt me’,” David said. “Besides raising my own children, this is the second best thing I have done in my life.”