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'Go with your gut'

Officer Jorge Gonzalez demonstrates self defense during a kidnap awareness class at Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center. Submitted photo1 / 2
Students at Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center in West Fargo practice escaping from an attacker during a recent kidnapping awareness and self defense class. Submitted photo.2 / 2

Bailey Jo Aanenson, 15, recently learned a startling statistic: according to reports, kids her age are the most likely to be kidnapped.

She could hardly believe it.

"I was like, really? That's us," she said.

But instead of dwelling on the information, Aanenson decided to do something about it.

With help from the West Fargo Police Department, Aaenenson and a partner, Samara Strack, recently put together a self defense class for their Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center peers in West Fargo. Aanenson and Strack, both freshmen, are part of the Sheyenne's FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), a group that emphasizes community involvement, leadership and personal growth.

"We just thought it was a smart thing to do," Aanenson said.

'A lot of fun'

Besides informing their schoolmates on the dangers and prevention of kidnappings, Aanenson and Strack also figured the class would fit the bill for their STAR (Students Taking Action with Recognition) Event Project, an FCCLA derived program that focuses participants' efforts on family or consumer sciences. STAR events recognize members for proficiency and achievement in chapter and individual projects, leadership skills, and career preparation.

The duo put together a report and backboard, and will display their project Thursday during the STAR Event regional competition in Dickinson. If the judges present the team with a gold medal, they move on to the state competition. The last stop from there is the June national competition in Orlando.

June is a long ways off, however Aanenson thinks her group has a pretty good shot, especially since kidnap prevention class was so well received.

"I talked to a lot of (the participants) and they said it was a lot of fun," she said.

WFPD Officer Jorge Gonzalez taught the course, telling onlookers about the statistics of kidnapping before delving into prevention and, ultimately, self defense.

"I think what was the main thing to take away, and he really emphasized this, is don't put yourself in those situations in the first place," Aanenson said. "Go with your gut, and if it feels like a bad situation, get out of it."

Informative experience

Officer Gonzalez had the class look at their group as a reference to the prevalence of kidnapping for the 15-year-old age group.

"He told us that half of us would go home, and half would not," Aanenson said. "It was eye opening."

The class then learned the basics about different forms of martial arts, such as taekwondo and karate, to better prepare them for confrontations with dangerous people. After that, it was off to a hallway where Officer Gonzalez displayed ways to get away from attackers.

"He showed us that, if we got grabbed in a certain way, what we should do to get away," Aanenson said.

But besides the advice of "following your gut," she said the most important thing they learned was to use their voice.

"The first thing you should say is, 'stop, get away from me,'" Aanenson said. "Then, especially if people are around, you shout for help.

"Otherwise, yell as loud as you can, then focus all your energy on getting away."

Aanenson said Officer Gonzalez was so pleased with how his class was received by the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center students that he wants to continue to teach more self defense and kidnap prevention classes in the future.

While Aanenson and Strack were happy to leave their peers a bit more informed on kidnapping and self defense, as FCCLA members they were hard pressed to stop there.

Hard work pays off

They wrote articles for their school news letter about safety tips, and helped implement A Child Is Missing; a phone-alert, community-based program to help locate children, the elderly, and people with disabilities who have gone missing.

The program is similar to an Amber Alert, Aanenson said, but allows the word to get out for all three demographics, not just children.

Besides the self defense class, Aanenson, who is president of the FCCLA at the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center, said her group helps out however and wherever it can, with whatever is brought to their attention.

"We do everything," she said. "If you want to raise money for something, FCCLA is the place to bring it."

Some of FCCLA's recent contributions include gathering Christmas presents for students in need at the ninth grade center, as well as a toy drive for children at the YWCA. The group also helps with concessions at all West Fargo basketball games, and recently spearheaded a movement to collect $250 from each area town to donate toward the Children's Miracle Network.

And while it does take a lot of work and dedication, Aanenson said being a part of the FCCLA has its perks, too.

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "There are so many things we do."