Reaching Out: Local program pushes youth toward success

By Shane Hulsey

Chances are, the majority of consistent readers of this website have been to college, plan to go to college, are in college, or, at the very least, was able to go to college even if they chose not to go. Those of us in this category have at least some of the tools to prosper after college, as well. We have money, support from family and friends, and what we learned in college to take us great places once our college days are through.

For those not in that category, however, just getting into college can seem like a lofty goal at best, sometimes an afterthought.

That’s where Quincy Teen Reach comes in.

Teen Reach, located at the Frederick Ball Community Center at Ninth and Elm, is a program dedicated to helping at-risk youth reach their full potential. The after-school program serves students ages 6 to 17 and runs from approximately 2:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Program staff provide homework assistance, help students play out real-world situations such as budgeting, and teach or help refine manners such as proper dinner etiquette.

Staff also provide transportation to and from the program’s facility, as well as dinner, which is served at approximately 4:30 after a “Homework Power Hour” from about 3 to 4:15. The students help set the table for dinner and help clean up afterwards.

After dinner, a special activity is planned to help the students understand and talk about things going on in their and other people’s lives. For example, the students and staff recently talked about the homeless and how they can help.

Program Coordinator Chris Turner said each activity has the same goals.

“Everything we do, all activities, are geared to teach life skills, they’re geared to help us mentor the kids, and they’re geared to get them what they need to know to survive out here,” he said.

In the 13 years since Dennis Williams took over as program director, the program has grown from about 20 kids per day to anywhere between 40 and 50.

Williams said Teen Reach serves as a safe haven for the kids and takes stress away from parents.

“We are not having them be on the streets and having parents worry about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” he said. “Parents know they can come here and see their child anytime, but even more than that, they know their child is safe.”

Sharon Myers, a Teen Reach mentor, said her goals for the program are the same as those the program holds as a whole.

“I want to help these students get through high school and graduate, and hopefully send them off to college,” she said. “College is not for everyone, but I at least want them to have a good job and fill a place in the community.”

Williams’ responsibilities include making sure the coordinator and mentors are fulfilling their roles in the program, as well as working with agencies within the community to coordinate events with Teen Reach.

Williams says he comes to work each day to see lives change.

“Compassion, hope, dream. When you can see that in a child change, and you can see that blossom inside of them, and it gives them hope, for the trauma situations that they go through, it just makes your day. It makes your life change. It makes you want to wake up every morning and do something that makes them feel like they’re somebody.”

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