The school of ‘hard knocks’ in Chilliwack

Yo Bro Yo Girl program making a difference in Chilliwack schools, in the classroom and beyond

Joe Calendino (centre) has a black belt in judo and jiu jitsu

Kids don’t grow up covered in bubble wrap.

They witness violence, sometimes experiencing it firsthand at a very young age. They are exposed to alcohol consumption, offered deadly drugs, targeted for sexual advances, and even coerced into gang activity.

And it does seem to be happening more and more.

But there are people out there trying to intervene in these young people’s lives before they run off the rails. People like Joe Calendino, who has been running his Yo Bro Yo Girl group in select Chilliwack schools for  three years now.

At a recent session at the Education Centre, a group of teens sit and stand in the weight room on the outer edges of the floor mats. They’re stretching, warming up to learn self-defence moves, but mostly they’re listening to what Calendino has to say.

“The average age of a shooter is now between 17 and 22,” he tells them, and there have been about 60 shootings already this year in the Lower Mainland.

And when they’re asked how many of them have witnessed an overdose, or know someone who has overdosed, five of the 10 raise their hands.

“The problem is so huge,” one says. “It’s starting to affect everybody.”

They all have stories they could share, and a few of them do. They’re in the group to learn how to take back control of their lives, now and into the future. They listen patiently to Calendino, and his partner Brandon Robertson, because they’ve both been where nobody sets out to go.

Calendino was a drug addict and full patch Hell’s Angel member at one time in his life, and Robertson was a drug addict living a life of crime. Robertson tells the kids his journey began with an injury that led him to being on oxycontin. When his doctors took him off the drug, he was sicker than he’d ever been.

“The sickness, the pain, was too much, and I started to take heroin,” he says. “It’s crazy how quickly it becomes a habit.”

And just as dangerous as the drugs themselves, are some drug addicts. The teens here know this. One mentions he’s been jumped. Another says she worries when people near her are high, and not acting themselves. Others admit that when they’re doing drugs at a party, they’re just not thinking about the dangers.

“You’re too focused on getting high,” the student says.

It’s information that may shock some adults, but in a Yo Bro Yo Girl session, this type of brutal honesty is encouraged. It’s no secret what kids are up to, after all, and “the stats speak for themselves,” Calendino says.

But the kids are getting anxious from all the talk and they’re ready to move around the room.

Calendino leads them through a warm up, teaching them basic qigong moves. They lift their arms, breathe, and lower them again.

“Take that one breath before you’re about to make that bad decision, and you will calm down. I promise you,” he tells them.

They continue to move slowly and carefully, stretching, breathing, focusing. They know the good stuff is coming, and within a few minutes they’re rewarded for their patience.

Calendino and Robertson demonstrate the first self-defence move of the session, and the kids are paired up to try it out. The attacker reaches out to grab the victim, and is immobilized when the victim aims for the eyes, the neck, and the arms. In a split second it seems impossible, but when Calendino and Robertson slow down, the kids perfect the move with ease.

They practice, over and over. They will practice this move, and countless others, so that if the need ever arises they can protect themselves.

“This is not a UFC program,” Calendino tells them. “This is not about that. Your objective is to never engage in a fight.”

Off to the side, two girls practice a flip from a laying down position. They make it look easy.

“My girls don’t get assaulted,” Calendino says. He hopes that none of them become the 1 in 3 women who have been victims of sexual assault.

But all the moves aside, it’s the self confidence and sense of belonging that keep the kids moving forward in life. And that’s a slow but rewarding process, he says. There are about 500 students in Yo Bro Yo Girl programs, largely in Surrey but also here in Chilliwack. So far, the Ed Centre and CHANCE are on board with Calendino, but there could be more involvement from other schools in the future.

The program is free for schools, as the not-for-profit is funded through donors in the private sector.

It was an easy choice for Chuck Lawson, principal of alternate education, to get involved.

“This is about more than just taking a class once a week,” he says. “It’s about a connection that happens. There’s a difference that goes beyond the classroom. Yo Bro is a part of the fabric of the school now.”

There are kids who would never miss a day when a class was planned, and others who just try it out a few times and bow out. The hope is that kids will graduate out of the program and turn around to give back.

One student, Ben Forde, has graduated and come back to volunteer. It’s given them hope that the program will flourish.

“And we have more than one ‘Ben,'” Calendino says.

The Ed Centre was the pilot school for Chilliwack, and they hope to grow into the mainstream schools as well.








Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Oct. 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Mark Strahl is speaking in the House of Commons on Oct. 20, 2020, on a Conservative motion to create a special committee to look into the WE charity scandal. The speech will be posted live on his Facebook page. (Facebook image)
VIDEO: Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl to speak on WE scandal today

Prime Minister has said Conservative motion for ethics committee could trigger election

Plow equipment clearing the roads on Dec. 13, 2016 focused on Priority 1 and 2 roads. (City of Chilliwack)
Dozens of Chilliwack roads could get upgraded for snow removal

But side streets mostly remain as priority 4, rarely if ever plowed based on resources available

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Rosedale man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after purchasing electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT, VPD response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

Most Read