Program topics include self-defense, domestic violence

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AZTEC — Some recent graduates of a San Juan County Sheriff’s Office self-protection program for women say they feel more prepared and empowered to avoid becoming a victim of crime.

The 12-week free program, Girls with G.R.I.T (Guts, Resilience, Intuition, Tenacity), was started at the Sheriff's Office after Sheriff Ken Christesen took office in 2011. He taught some of the courses when it was offered by the Farmington Police Department before he became sheriff.

Christesen told The Daily Times he started the program because the Farmington program reached so many people, and it empowered the women who attended the classes.

"It gave them an opportunity to teach them things to protect themselves and things to be aware of," Christesen said. "It's making them more aware of their surroundings and not putting themselves in a position where they can be a victim."

He was on hand for the last class of the fall session on Nov. 13 in a conference room at the Sheriff's Office building in Aztec. The women congregated for the last time as a class to hold a graduation ceremony. They were presented with certificates of completion, posed with the sheriff for a photo and took home a goody bag, which included pepper spray and a Sheriff's Office mug.

The popularity of the program, which is held twice a year, has led to a long waiting list.

Ginny Gil had been on the waiting list for a year and six months before she got the email inviting her to enroll in the program.

"It's a pretty empowering course. I think it's important for women to take it," Gil said. "I think word of mouth has got people talking about it."

The program covers various topics, include self-defense, active-shooter scenarios, sexual assault and domestic violence, drug recognition and awareness, and communicating under pressure.

Gil believes the program has taught her to be more aware of her surroundings and become more observant.

Rachel Chitty got her friend Bunny Smith to attend the class with her. Chitty heard about the class from her father, Larry Chitty, a mechanic for the Sheriff's Office. He suggested she take the class before she moves away from the area.

Both Rachel Chitty and Smith said the hands-on self-defense class was one of their favorite topics.

"Now, I actually know different things I could do as far as defending myself," Rachel Chitty said.

Smith said she had never participated in any training to defend herself. She added she now feels confident enough to escape from a potentially dangerous situation.

Christesen, who is preparing for retirement when Undersheriff Shane Ferrari takes over the position in 2019, said he was extremely pleased with the success of the G.R.I.T. program.

"I'm absolutely so proud," Christesen said. "I know it will continue because it's a positive program, and I think we have affected so many peoples' lives."

Rachel Chitty said something Ferrari told the students during the firearms training stuck with her. She recalled him telling the class that every second counts and that cops can sometimes be minutes away on a call.

"It's kind of learning how to make those seconds count, and you have to do it. They can't always be there for everything," she said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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