What does it take to make a significant change in one’s life, to go from struggle to a place of confidence? Farshad Azad believes it’s a combination of factors and requires change on all levels: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual.
Change is the cornerstone of the Rock Solid Teens program, known as “RST,” at Azad’s Martial Arts Family Center. RST is designed for youth from challenging backgrounds and who are experiencing significant difficulties, many showing a history of making poor choices. The program offers teens a dynamic opportunity to redefine themselves, and it’s a challenge they work hard to meet daily.
RST is the third incarnation of a program developed by Azad over a course of 30 years. Originally called “Project Sparrow,” it represented teens who go unnoticed, like the small bird, explains Azad. There are teens around us who are surviving tough lives, and often it takes recognition and support from the community to help them move forward successfully.
Hundreds of teens going through the program in the past 30 years have become successful, says Azad. Along the way its name changed to “Rising Stars,” reflecting the premise that all teens carry within them “star” potential. While a teen’s self-confidence and belief in life may be buried under numerous issues that need to be addressed, Azad knows that the ability to overcome challenges and to change courses – the ability to shine – is there. “I can’t help but see the giant powerhouse inside,” he says.
“Rock Solid Teens” continues the program’s evolution and grounds it into the community. Teens become “Rock Solid” through tools they gain in the program that empower them to make the right decisions for their lives and to become part of the community in the process. In RST, teens learn to drop “stinking thinking” and to embrace a positive mental attitude. They begin thinking about career goals, and learn about college/university life – and that college and a career are possible for them.
Many businesses, organizations and community leaders have become RST partners by offering the teens first-hand knowledge about opportunities and what’s involved with various career choices. Participants visit 20-30 companies, where they gain understanding of criteria required for a range of jobs, and how they can prepare. Through these visits, the teens are exposed to aspects of life they may never have considered possible for themselves.
At California State University, Chico, RST participants visit a variety of departments and learn about programs, housing, the ins and outs of university life … and that succeeding in college is possible. CSU, Chico president Dr. Paul Zingg has met many RST teens, and says of Azad, “Whether as a grand master martial arts teacher, or as a mentor to young people about their educational aspirations and life choices, Farshad focuses on the development of self-discipline, self-awareness, and confidence. He is helping these young people realize how these qualities translate into success no matter what they do.”
Meeting with community leaders, such as Chico’s mayor, is another component of the program. The teens not only gain insight into the workings of a city government and other organizations, “they also learn that these leaders do not come from a different planet, but are people who set goals for themselves to make something of their lives,” says Azad. For some of the teens, this point hits home when they meet leaders who were once in foster care, an experience a number of RST participants can relate to.
Being of service to the community is another key component of the program. Azad explains that in essence the word “samurai” means “to serve.” And so, RST teens conduct weekly car washes that raise funds for schools to buy supplies. They visit retirement homes, connecting with elderly people – an experience that has had deep impact for some participants. The RST team has cooked and served food at homeless shelters. And they become leaders: some RST participants make a shift from not doing well in school, to becoming leaders within their schools.
The physical component of the RST program teaches nutrition, weight training, martial arts and running, and how these build health and strength, both physically and mentally. By the end of the program most participants lose 20-30% of their body fat, says Azad, and in a healthy, long-lasting way.
Teens become involved with RST primarily by referral, though any teen can walk into the center and ask to meet with Azad about acceptance into the program. Every potential participant goes through an interview process to discern if they are ready.
The program offers a class on weekdays throughout the year, and in summer, if funding is available, an intensive program runs 7-8 hours daily. For most, the experience is free, thanks to support from organizations and individuals that enable Azad to offer scholarships.
In essence, the Rock Solid Teens program fosters both self-knowledge and selflessness. It is a holistic program that strives for life-long change. To find out more, visit its Facebook page, and look for the Rock Solid Teens video on YouTube.
Azad’s Martial Arts Family Center is located at 313 Walnut St. in Chico. Visit http://www.azadsmartialarts.com or call (530) 892-2923.