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Tuesday, March 28, 2023  

Denver After Dark Program opens young eyes to new career optionsPublished 11/4/2002

by Jason Smith

Denver Health Medical Center recently participated in the 12th annual Denver After Dark program presented by the Exploring Division, Learning for Life subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America. Denver After Dark is one of many programs put on by the Exploring Division, helping teens become more aware of different career options for their futures.

The Exploring Division, Learning for Life career education program, for young men and women ages 14 to 21, includes various programs throughout the year that help kids learn about different professions. The program also conducts surveys in these age groups to help better understand what kids want to learn more about, and medicine is in the top five, trailing behind careers such as professional athlete, musician and actor.

The Exploring Division’s stated purpose is to provide experiences to help young people mature and to prepare them to become responsible and caring adults. Although the Exploring Division has been successful over the years by incorporating different businesses in their special programs throughout the year, new businesses are always welcome, according to Becky Stout, the Exploring Division’s overall coordinator and team leader.

One of the annual programs put on by the Exploring Division each year is the Denver After Dark program, which focuses on different careers available to kids that just don’t see themselves as the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job employee.

The Denver After Dark program, which reaches 200 high school students in the Denver metro area, helps kids who, in some cases, have never even been out of their neighborhoods, get out and see what careers might be out there for them. "It takes kids out of their comfort zones and lets them see what other options are out there for them," Stout said. "We also mix the kids up and put them with kids from other high schools, so this helps get rid of the comfort zones as well."

The Denver After Dark program starts with all the participants meeting at Red & Jerry’s, a local arcade-style hang out. From there, participants choose from one of four buses that go to four different organizations that operate at night to learn about various professions. The only catch is that the buses are actually jail buses borrowed from the Denver Sheriff’s Office.

The buses take participants around town, stopping at places like fire departments, jails, animal hospitals and print shops participating in the Denver After Dark program. "It’s a real eye-opener for kids when they go to places like the jail and the prisoners are grabbing for their ankles from under the solitary confinement doors," Stout said. We are always looking for different places for the kids to visit." Among the different stops throughout the night, one bus stops at Denver Health’s emergency department.

This stop provides an opportunity for teens to learn what it takes to become an emergency medical technician, paramedic, emergency department nurse and even a physician, but it also works as an effective scare tactic in helping to deter teens from activities that might put them at risk.

"We show the kids slides of people who have come into the emergency department, including drug overdoses on heroin and gun shot wounds," said David Kelly, a paramedic and long-time Denver Health Emergency Department employee who has organized Denver Health’s participation in this program for the past 12 years. "The event started with about 10 kids and the last one had 90, so it’s grown quite a bit."

Along with the slide presentation, this stop includes a talk about the different aspects of working in the medical field as well as a tour of the emergency department. "I feel we’ve made some huge impacts on some of these kids," Kelly said. "We’ve helped change several career paths that basically had no direction. As a result of this program, kids have gone on to careers in the medical field."

The level one trauma unit at Denver Health sees its fair share of tragedy, but opening kids eyes to the realities of violence – as opposed to what is seen in movies and on television – can help kids become more aware of what things like drinking and driving or just not wearing a seatbelt might mean in a car accident.

Following the various tours, all the buses drop the kids off where they started for an after-hours party that includes plenty of fun, pizza and entertainment.

"One of these days," Kelly said, "I hope to have one of our medical students walk up to me and say ‘I decided to go into medicine because of the Denver After Dark Program.’"

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