Community outreach specialist Samantha Owens takes to the road in order to engage at-risk teens and runaway youth
How do you reach kids and at-risk youth “where they are at?” How do you make sure you are reaching the kids who may need you? These are the questions we at NRS are constantly considering. As we have grown our web presence with increased social media use, a new website, and chat and email services, we have also expanded our grassroots outreach efforts.
Going off of the success of the 2014 Chicago speaking engagements, NRS decided to take the “show on the road” to targeted cities across the U.S. NRS’ Community Engagement Specialist, Samantha Owens, built relationships with schools in Milwaukee, the Boys and Girls Clubs of central Tennessee, and LGBTQ youth programs in New York, as well as continuing to present to youth programs in Chicago.
“The biggest challenge, when it comes to giving presentations to groups of young people, is getting them to believe that we aren’t here to judge them or get them in trouble,” Owens says. “A lot of youth have been let down by adults a lot, so can, understandably, be hesitant to believe someone telling them ‘we genuinely want to help you, no strings attached.’” To build trust with the kids, Owens shares her experiences as an adolescent, shares stories of past calls, and outlines the nature of NRS’ services, explaining “if you allow yourself to be vulnerable as a presenter, it makes it safer for the young people in the room to be vulnerable- to ask you questions and share a bit more.”
This grassroots outreach tour was a six-month endeavor, beginning in Milwaukee in March. In Milwaukee, Ms. Owens spoke to students at five different schools; four high schools and a middle school. You can read more details about the Milwaukee trip in an earlier article. NRS was then invited to present to the middle school-aged youth attending summer camp at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Tennessee, which serves approximately 2,500 kids each year.
Here she is pictured with the people of the Nashville Department of Youth Services.
The tour concluded with a visit, presentation, and delivery of tote bags to the Ali Forney Center in NYC, which assists nearly 1,400 youth experiencing homelessness each year.
Asked about the takeaways from this project, Owens says “You know, I was the presenter but I feel like I learned a lot,” she continued, “I learned a lot about what young people are worrying about, how kids are finding us, and how they perceive the idea of ‘being in crisis. Things are always changing in terms of teen norms culture, so it’s crucial we keep learning, which we are.” Beyond these lessons learned, Ms. Owens also made connections with over eight new schools and community organizations- connections that can be leveraged to increase our reach and impact.
To find out more about how to get NRS to speak at your school or community group, contact us at communications@1800RUNAWAY.org.