Bermudez brings 'Young Marines' program to Woonsocket

Bermudez brings 'Young Marines' program to Woonsocket

WOONSOCKET - Members of the US Marine Corps are known for their drive, dedication and self-discipline, and they have plenty of knowledge to share - even with an 8-year-old.

A new youth education program known as the Young Marines has arrived in Woonsocket and local kids now have the chance to learn military values and skills from those who have been through the real deal, some former marines.

"Kids need some type of role model - someone to guide them in the right direction," said Edward Bermudez, a former marine who serves as the "unit commander" for the Woonsocket division, headquartered at the CYO Center at 122 Clinton St.

The program aims to improve the mental, moral and physical development of its members, focusing on character building, leadership, and a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. It also aims to teach the inner values of honor, courage and commitment.

"I believe strongly in this program because it teaches kids to take responsibility for themselves, to respect adults, and to respect the country they live in," Bermudez said.

Boys and girls ages 8 through the completion of high school are eligible to sign up, and the only membership requirement is that the child be in good standing with school. The first unit of the organization was started in 1958 with a handful of boys. The international program has since grown to include 240 units with 10,000 youth and 3,000 adult volunteers in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Germany and Japan, with affiliates in a host of other countries.

Each unit has at least one marine - former, retired, reserve or active duty. Instructors are generally motivated to volunteer because they believe passionately that the values they learned as marines had a positive effect on them, and Bermudez is no exception.

Raised in the Lower East Side in the New York City borough of Manhattan, Bermudez was one of 16 children in a tough neighborhood.

"Drugs were running rampant back then," he said.

"As we got older, we left home. That's the way it worked. If I had stayed in the area I would have ended up dead or on drugs."

At 17 and a half, he joined the Marine Corps, and it changed the course of his life. He went on to a career as a firefighter in Chelsea, Mass., and started his first unit of the Young Marines there.

"It's a small city and the kids didn't have anything constructive to do," he said.

A decade later, Bermudez retired and moved to Woonsocket. He opened the "River Falls" division on Clinton Street in May and has already signed up three members: two girls, ages 11 and 9 and one boy, age 13. In August, he'll hold the unit's first registration drive.

Upon joining, members are expected to take part in "Boot Camp," a 26-hour orientation program spread out over several weeks, where they learn about history, customs, drills physical fitness and military rank order. After graduating from Young Marine "Boot Camp", the kids hold drills and can earn rank. They wear the Young Marine uniform and work toward ribbon awards for achievements in areas like leadership, community service, swimming, academic excellence, first aid and drug resistance education.

During the summer months, Young Marines can attend National programs for leadership courses, adventures, challenges and encampments. Older kids in the program can learn things like survival skills and wilderness training.

"It's about both having fun and learning," said Bermudez.

Currently, Bermudez is running the program with the help of his wife, daughter-in-law, and one other former military soldier who drives in from New Hampshire. He said the program is always in need of volunteers. All adult volunteers for the program are individually screened by the National Headquarters.

To register, kids must pay a $30 registration fee and $10 a month for membership. The Young Marines uniform, Bermudez said, costs around $100. All of the costs go toward supporting the Young Marines on-going activities. Applications will be accepted on Aug. 28 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the CYO Center.

For Bermudez, it's all about improving the community he lives in.

"Hopefully we can help some kids to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to graduate, and become good citizens."