Thirty-five years ago a groundbreaking youth program began in Sarnia that proved so effective it now helps at-risk kids in 18 Ontario locations.
Rebound was a direct response to the new Young Offenders Act of the 1980s, which gave municipalities the option to divert youth accused of petty crimes out of the overburdened court system, said Barry Symington, a retired Sarnia Police officer and program co-founder.
Symington and fellow Sarnians Terry Fitzgerald and Dee Cox launched Rebound in 1984 and loosely based the 10-week program on a professional development course Fitzgerald taught at Lambton College.
“What we would say to the kid was, ‘Court or Course,’” recalled Symington, 76. “It was created for here.”
Today, Rebound Sarnia-Lambton has grown into an organization that offers 17 different programs tailored to issues including drug abuse, mental health, LGBTQ+ awareness, and mentorship for girls.
Most programs are based on learning life skills and better decision-making, said executive director Carrie McEachran.
“It’s those resiliency skills, to be able to handle life’s challenges that we all encounter, because youth really struggle with that,” she said.
To celebrate 35 years of success, Rebound is hosting an open house on Saturday, when volunteers and past graduates will share their stories and experiences.
Symington said kids back then were much different. But the trouble they got into and the pressures they faced seem insignificant compared to what kids deal with today, he said sadly.
He recalled with a chuckle how two participants in the program, which operated out of the Lochiel Kiwanis Centre, thought it was funny to climb onto the roof.
Cox phoned Symington at home, where he was having dinner.
The situation was defused when Cox told the pair they’d be better off jumping than wait for the towering police constable to arrive.
But the core philosophy is still the same. The Rebound ‘STAR’ is an acronym for Stop, Think, Act, Result, he said.
Rebound was so successful at diverting kids it was franchised and now operates in 18 Ontario locations. In 2013, the province recognized it as a ‘best practice’ and currently funds it in eight of those locations, McEachran said.
Over the years, Rebound has had positive impacts on countless local teens, Symington said. In fact, a contractor he recently hired gave it credit for getting his life back on track, he said.
“They have to be responsible. You have to give them a punishment of some sort. And the alternative is not jail, they don’t learn anything in there that’s ever going to help.”
These days, the courts are too lenient, Symington believes. But because so many families break down, participants often just need someone reliable to listen to them, he added.
McEachran said Rebound is constantly being modified to help about 300 participants annually, ages eight to 24.
“It’s all evidence informed,” she said. “If youth are telling us that these are their needs, we’re trying to make it work.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Sarnia-Lambton Rebound 35th anniversary celebration
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 2, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
WHERE: Sarnia-Lambton Rebound, 10 Lorne Cres.
WHO: Anniversary celebration for past graduates, families, and volunteers of Rebound programs and anyone else with a Rebound story.