When a second grader at an afterschool program in Tidewater was recently asked by her teacher what she would do if she was being bullied, she answered that she would talk to a trusted adult and tell them she was feeling frightened. But she also replied, “I might go to Al’s Place to calm down.”
She is one of the more than 7,400 children who have been reached by VFHY-funded Al’s Pals classes implemented through Alternatives Inc. since 2006 at faith-based, community and military preschools and Head Start programs in Hampton, Newport News, the Historic Triangle and Poquoson.
Based around a set of brightly colored, friendly puppets that sing and interact with the kids, Al’s Pals is a comprehensive prevention program aimed at delivering age-appropriate messages to children from ages 3 to 8. In addition to introducing the dangers of tobacco use, Al’s Pals also addresses topics such as alcohol and child abuse prevention and how to peacefully resolve conflicts with others.
A Hampton-based nonprofit youth development agency founded in 1973, Alternatives provides Al’s Pals instruction to about 1,800 children across Hampton Roads each year, a figure that continues to grow.
Al’s Pals has a measurable impact on increasing pro-social skills such as expressing feelings and problem solving, while also minimizing anti-social behaviors such as temper tantrums and fighting, says Alternatives Executive Director Kathy Johnson.
Pre-k testing scores in the region have also risen since Al’s Pals was introduced: “Part of school readiness is being able to function in a group setting and get along with other children. We think Al’s Pals has contributed to that,” Johnson says.
And by providing funds that Alternatives can supplement with state and local matching grants, she says, “VFHY’s funding provides us the foundation to help continue this great work.”