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TODAY news for Thursday, February 9, 2006

School of Nursing news

School of Nursing professor uses rap to connect with local church

Bernadine Irwin, PhD, RN
Bernadine Irwin, PhD, RN, raps onstage with her two “Twins” during the CrossCulture Worship service at Campus Hill Church, November 19.
Worshippers at the November 19 CrossCulture Worship service at Campus Hill Church got a special surprise from a School of Nursing faculty member.

Bernadine Irwin, PhD, RN, professor of nursing, performed a rap with two of her graduates from Operation Jessica (OJ), an at-risk youth outreach program.

Billed as “Dr. Bernie and Her Twins,” Dr. Irwin teamed up with Dmetri and Elijah, two young men who are amazingly gifted at rap.

“It’s exciting to me, because there are plans under way for not only these two to participate actively during the worship service again in the future, but also to welcome any OJ teen that chooses to come,” Dr. Irwin says.

This rap group came about when, at the last Operation Jessica retreat, the young men began teaching Dr. Irwin the basics of rap. The group began to develop a rap to be used at the Operation Jessica graduation. It was this same rap that was used at the worship service at Campus Hill Church.

The words to the rap are:

So great to be here!
We let go our fear.

We reach out for hugs.
No more with the thugs.
Our mentors are great.
They help change our fate.

The mountains are tight.
They take out our fight.

We get full of love.
We find God above.

He’s now in our heart!
Now isn’t that smart?!

According to Dr. Irwin, the pastoral staff at the Campus Hill Church are working toward engaging previously unreached populations through new and creative strategies.

“Pastor Hyveth [Williams] has spoken of our new group as being an illustration of what those new strategies look like,” says Dr. Irwin.

The group has developed another song, titled “Christmas Rapping,” which they also performed.

The future plans for OJ are to not only continue the regular OJ retreats, but also to expand the follow-up program. The most immediate goal that Dr. Irwin is working on is to provide both a spiritual and career mentor for every OJ graduate.

Recently, Anthony Frazier, a graduate of the School of Nursing, joined Operation Jessica as pastor.

“I’m very excited about what he is bringing to the team,” Dr. Irwin says.

Dr. Irwin has been involved with troubled youth for some time now.

While leading groups at the Youth Justice Center in San Bernardino, Dr. Irwin became acquainted with 14-year-old Jessica Salazar. Jessica soon became a friend of Dr. Irwin’s.

However, on a Friday night, February 11, 2000, Jessica was kidnapped and murdered by several alleged gang members.

Based on this tragedy, Dr. Irwin wrote a book, For the Love of Jessica: the story of gang kids guided from tragedy to triumph (Millennia Publishing Company). The book documents the changes that troubled youth went through as she offered transformational programs to the youth at the center.

The Operation Jessica program is designed to be a transformational, spiritual experience within the framework of nature for at-risk youth. The program, named in memory of Jessica Salazar, invites disturbed teens to nature retreats where they can be free from the constraints of the past and empowered to move above and beyond as they develop new possibilities for themselves.

The kids are able to mountain bike, go-kart race, hike along the many nature trails, and run through a low and high ropes challenge course.

The retreats include several outdoor events, plus family sessions, “Above and Beyond” sessions, and praise singing.

“Above and Beyond” sessions deal with the topics of “victim/survivor,” “dangerous coping” (i.e. drugs, violence, sex, etc.), “healing of wounds,” “personal possibilities,” and “freedom to be.”

Family sessions usually involve arts and crafts, social interaction, and personal sharing.

The program has grown considerably since the first Operation Jessica retreat. As of this winter, there are now 208 graduates.

A part of the Operation Jessica program includes a follow-up component to reconnect with the youth once they have completed Operation Jessica. This follow-up is affirmation and reunion parties.

The Operation Jessica retreats are now held every quarter as part of a senior-level class, “community mental health nursing.” However, Operation Jessica mentors are not just limited to School of Nursing students. Occupational therapy students, pediatric residents, senior medical students, and staff have also been involved. Any student on campus can register for a four-unit course titled “intervention strategies for at-risk youth” and participate in Operation Jessica.

“One of my goals for the program is to transform the way teens are viewed,” says Dr. Irwin. “When a tough-looking teen is seen on the street or in the news, instead of evoking fear and a sense of them being hopeless, we need to recognize that they are wounded. With firm structure and lots of love, there is hope for them.”

For more information on Operation Jessica, please contact Dr. Irwin at <birwin@llu.edu>. Tax deductible contributions can also be made to Operation Jessica Fund at Loma Linda University.

By Dustin R. Jones, MA

TODAY news for Thursday, February 9, 2006