Loma Linda University news

File 5Operation Jessica kids, mentors, program directors, and all those in attendance at first service at Campus Hill Church joined hands while singing “He Knows My Name.” Graduates of the Operation Jessica outreach program were celebrated in a special church service at Campus Hill Church on February 17.“The purpose of the celebration at church was to enable the teens to experience a sense of community and welcome by the church family,” says Bernadine Irwin, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing, School of Nursing.

Twenty teen participants were given “Forgiven” arm bands and the youth version of Ellen G. White’s Steps to Christ. The teens were welcomed on-stage by Dr. Irwin and were congratulated by both Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, chancellor of Loma Linda University, and Hyveth Williams, DMin, senior pastor of Campus Hill Church.

“We plan to both continue and expand the program in the future,” says Dr. Irwin.

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 do some mountain biking, go-kart racing, hiking along the many nature trails, and running 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.

In fact, following a recent retreat, Dr. Irwin began to wonder about a follow-up program for the retreat to somehow reconnect with the youth once they have completed the Operation Jessica program. It was then that the affirmation and reunion parties were born.

The Operation Jessica retreats are now held every quarter as part of a senior-level class, “Psych-Mental Health Nursing II.”

Currently, Operation Jessica is a multidisciplinary effort, with School of Medicine students participating under the supervision of Marti Baum, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, School of Medicine.

By Dustin R. Jones, MA