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Peer support key to new teen program

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Discussing personal problems with peer advocates could be termed crucial “life support,” especially for teenagers faced with the added ordeal of growing up.

That according to Connie Petersen, facilitator of a new support program focused on providing a user-friendly forum for adolescents.

Petersen, a youth and family court worker and staff member at the United Native Friendship Centre here, said her promotion of a teen support program stemmed from years of experience working with troubled youth, most of whom had one common complaint—no one to talk to.

“Kids tell me all the time nobody understands what [they] feel. A lot say they have no place to go to talk to somebody,” she said.

The supervised teen support program, soon to be offered through the Aboriginal Family Resource Centre at 358 Church St., will give teens a neutral place to talk with friends or counsellors—away from other gathering areas like school property or the pool hall.

“They can share whatever they want to talk about and be able to identify with kids their own age,” Petersen said.

“And this is for everybody. We don't just concentrate on native [youth]," she stressed. "I think it's important not to segregate.”

In offering teens a place to talk, Petersen hopes to affect a proactive approach among area youth to learn how to be more responsible to themselves, society, and the choices they make.

“If they want [rights], they have to learn how to handle [responsibility] and show [it],” she reasoned, saying as a worker in the court system, she hears teenagers blaming their parents and other outside forces for how they act.

“It's about accepting responsibility and learning that change has to come from inside you,” she remarked.

Tracy Blasky, a family support worker at UNFC and one of four other staff involved in the teen support program, agreed with the need to teach greater responsibility to today's youth.

“It all comes down to respect for yourself and for others. I'm hoping teens will learn a bit more [of that],” she said.

As a support worker, Blasky said she sees a lot of teen pregnancy and felt greater self-respect would help lower those statistics.

Meanwhile, Petersen is in the midst of consulting with school principals and guidance counsellors on the program concept in order to share ideas on how it could run most efficiently.

“I wanted to know what they'd like to see in [the program]. A lot of other people are interested in assisting with this,” she said.

“I care about these kids. I want them to realize there are places to go that can help you,” she concluded.

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