Teens Mentor Peers Through Street Outreach Program
With the pressures of school, home and friends, the life of a teenager is getting harder every day, and many have trouble dealing. Now one group is using kids to help kids get help.
"I'm a teenager and I see a lot of things, so a lot of things don't come as a surprise to me," said Kristal McFarland.
As a teen, she says she's seen more than her share of problems. But that's why she joined the Street Outreach Team. They're teenagers who help other teens deal with life, one day at a time.
"Teens who go to school with me, teens I see in the streets," said team member Joi Williams.
"Seeing a teenager my own age that I know that wants to go home but can't, that hurts," said Whitney Bing.
The program is through Park Place Outreach, a Savannah shelter for troubled teens. In the 20 years it's been open, Outreach has been the first bandage, helping more than 5,000 young people get back on the right track. The Street Team takes a proactive approach, getting to youngsters before they leave home, before the problems get worse, getting them the help they need.
"It's someone that feels the same way as you or actually knows where you are coming from," said Whitney. "An adult may look at you differently because they've been there, done that, but a teenager knows what you are dealing with in this day right now."
"I'm proud that people know I'm a peer mentor and they can come to me, and I won't tell their business and that I can help them or I can refer them to someone that can help them," said Kristal.
The Street Outreach Team doesn't just help out at school. They take their cause outside, to the community.
"There seems to be so much more out there, so much visibility of what's going on," said Park Place's director, Linda Lamas.
Lamas says everything from dating violence to parental issues and peer pressure can lead to big problems for teens. She hopes this program will help them deal with their daily struggles, making life as normal as possible, and allowing them to grow and change into stronger, better adults.
"What really keeps us going, because we see a lot of heartbreak, is to have a youth walk back in this door a year later, several months later and say, 'Thank you, I'm sure glad you're here,'" Lamas said.
And these girls all say they are glad to help.
"I'm just glad there's a place where people my age can go to," said Whitney.
"We made a difference in somebody's life, so let's keep doing that," said Kristal.
The peer mentors are paid for their hard work, but most say they do the job not for the money, but to help. Park Place receives local and federal money, but needs more money to to expand its shelter operations and Street Outreach program.
If you would like to be a peer mentor, or help out Park Place's Street Outreach Team with a donation, just give Park Place Outreach executive director Linda Lamas a call at 234.4048.