An outreach program for teenagers is paying big dividends for participants, their families and their communities.
The Wyman Teen Outreach Program, facilitated by the Southwest Louisiana AIDS council, is recruiting participants for this year’s program, which gets under way next month.
The program helps teenagers improve attitudes, communication skills and become more responsible. The program has helped participants become better students, avoid teen pregnancy and foster better relationships with peers and family members. Community service projects have included helping to feed the elderly at the Housing Authority, landscaping with Project Build-A-Future, swimming lessons, individual work with the elderly.
“The program is designed for ages 12-17, it is a free, nine month intervention where the teens commit to the program, come to classes once a week for 90 minutes and 20 hours of community service learning, which involves volunteer work in the community,” said Outreach Coordinator Christiana Duhon. “The program is voluntary. We are looking to recruit about 350 kids for the program. The program will start Sept. 23, we are trying to get all the kids in by Sept. 6.”
Program administrator Krystal Esters said the program provides several benefits to participants.
“We teach the teens to be assertive, they gain a lot of self-confidence, it provides them a comfortable setting where they can be themselves, where they can open up and not be afraid of giving their opinion,” she said. The program teaches them goal-setting, how to effectively communicate, how to build better relationships with friends, with peers, how to be a better person for the community.”
“Seeing them develop from the time they come in until the program ends, there is such a dramatic change in their attitudes, their outlook, how they see themselves and how they see themselves in the community. We have had some many teens where their whole outlook on life has changed. They became more responsile, their understanding of the role they play in the community has changed.
“I had one teen that was very negative, very aggressive, that was the only way she knew how to express herself. When we started with the communication curriculum, she learned that you don’t always have to be so aggressive, that you can take a different approach. There is more than standing and arguing or fussing. Her attitude changed, her attitude at school changed. Her mother told us that she wasn’t the same person that entered the program. She went from arguing, bickering and being rude to waiting her turn and ‘yes ma’am.’”
Program coordinator Barbara Miller said a goal of the program is assisting parents.
“We see ourselves as support to the parents,” she said. “We want to help them keep the teenagers out of the danger zones they can be pressured into. We help with issues such as low self-esteem and insecurity. We don’t talk at the teens, it is a lot of hands-on learning for them, there is a lot of interaction among themselves, discussions, small group activities.”
Deputy Chief P.J. Bell of the Lake Charles Police Department said communication with teenage son Thomas Bell Jr. and nephew Freddy Vezia improved after the two completed the program.
“The classes teach the kids about pride, abstinence and teen pregnancy,” Bell said.
“The program opens them up so we can talk to them about things now, things that are hard for parents to talk about. It has opened up a lot about for our family. A couple of times I went into the class and they were talking about peer pressure. That’s something I can ask my kid about every day and he will tell us ‘no,’ but in the program they have other kids their and it gives them a chance to open up.
“At one time, I really couldn’t talk with him that well. Now we can talk without arguing, we can communicate. The program helps the kids learn how to talk with adults. In two or three years, they are going to be in the real world, they won’t be in the shelter of high school. They are going to be in a job, dealing with people, you have to know how to talk with people. The program shows the kids how much leadership they have inside of them and helps it come out, gives them an opportunity to show they can be leaders.”
Menola Zeno, whose daughter Alexandria Stewart, went through the program two years ago,
“It did her a lot of good, she used to not like read to read aloud, now she loves it,” she said.
“It is a great program. She learned a lot and likes helping other people. Before she started, she was too much to herself, too shy, didn’t really like being bothered. Now she is a lovable teenager. She still helps out with the program and is part of their youth ambassador program.”
Bell said his son often shared what he learned through the program with siblings.
“Some programs are just for the kids, TOP Teens is for the whole family,” he said. “It supports the whole family. They come home and can talk with brothers and sisters that are much older than them. It really focuses on their developmental skills. I researched the program then enlisted my son, and it has done him a lot of good.”
For more information on the program, including referrals and applications, call 439-5861.