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Project Harmony Celebrates A Decade Of Success

Date Added: March 25, 2004 11:00 am

Gary Davidson
Public Information Officer


After a decade of promoting cultural diversity and reducing school violence, Volusia County-based Project Harmony remains a model of success that’s being emulated in more than a dozen counties across Florida. Several of the program’s founders along with participating agencies, financial donors and middle school students gathered at the Sheriff’s Youth Camp in Barberville Wednesday to celebrate Project Harmony’s 10 years of achievements. Those achievements include numerous local, state and national awards that have recognized the positive impact the program has had in middle school campuses across the county. “What a great, great project this is,” said Sheriff Ben Johnson during Wednesday’s celebration. “What started kind of as a dream here in Volusia County is now being imitated throughout the state.” 

Project Harmony brings together the resources of multiple agencies in an effort to combat school violence by emphasizing leadership skills, cultural diversity and conflict resolution training. The program is a unique cooperative venture between the Sheriff’s Office, Volusia County School Board, the Sheriff’s Youth Camp, Stetson University and the West Volusia Police Athletic League. The centerpiece of the program is a series of weeklong retreats where students are confronted with cultural diversity issues and challenged to work together to improve their school environment. Conflict resolution and leadership training are reinforced with challenge course activities that encourage cooperation and problem-solving. Students are selected by school administrators and Sheriff’s deputies, and participation is voluntary. “Project Harmony isn’t a boot camp. And it isn’t a holding facility for juveniles,” said Dr. Patrick Coggins, Professor of Education at Stetson University. “It’s just a happy place where kids can come and grow and develop.” 

Project Harmony began as a pilot program at DeLand Middle School in 1993. Due to its success, the program expanded into every middle school in the county, and along the way has served more than 9,000 Volusia County students since its inception. The program has reduced suspensions and absenteeism in middle schools, and program participants as a whole have improved their academic performance. “This is a leadership program. That’s what it’s all about,” explained Roger Bouchard, president of the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches. 

Wednesday also was an opportunity for the organizers to give thanks to one of Project Harmony’s most ardent supporters, Volusia County School Superintendent Bill Hall. Bill Frye, vice president of programs for Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, noted that Project Harmony faced funding cuts several times, but Hall always managed to make sure that the school district came through with the money to keep the program afloat. “I know that Superintendent Hall for a fact said (of the proposed cuts): ‘No, not on my watch. This program is too important to the kids and the community.” And Hall himself, who’s retiring at the end of the month, had an admonition for the assembled group. “Don’t ever, ever, ever let Project Harmony go by the wayside,” warned Hall. “It’s good for children, and frankly it’s good for adults who bring their children out here. It’s good for all of us.” 

Perhaps the most ringing endorsement of the day came from a graduate of Project Harmony, Tasha Stolo. Stolo attended project Harmony eight years ago and is now studying business management at Daytona Beach Community College. During her testimonial, Stolo told the audience that the lessons she learned at Project Harmony have stayed with her ever since. “The experience and skills students gain at Camp harmony are great building blocks for future situations,” said Stolo. “Thank you to everyone involved in making that possible.”

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