The conversations at-risk youth are having may surprise—even humble—you

“Mom told me I had to stay home and take care of my younger siblings.”

“My counselor told me I didn’t have enough credits and should drop out.”

“Mom started using again – I couldn’t live there anymore.”

“I lost both parents to cancer within 5 years – the foster system was not for me.”

These are all reasons we’ve heard—this year—from young people who have dropped out of school and are not on a path to graduate.

We recognize that when we’re reaching out to these young people, we need to provide more than just academic resources. The peer-to-peer support and encouragement is as important as the adult one-on-one attention they receive.

In Federal Way, at the Open Doors Academy, their Power Hour is a great example of this support. It’s a peer-led group where youth discuss a variety of things happening in their lives. We joined a group in February—on Valentine’s Day—and half expected the conversation to be about love or relationships.

The group did have a conversation about love but not in the way you might think. The youth facilitator was a young Latinx man who disclosed that he used to be part of a gang. He decided the topic for the day should be ‘Loss’. He had lost a close friend to violence about a year ago and told the story and showed a quick tribute video on youtube.

It was intense. Loss is tough to talk about, particularly when group bonds are still forming. There was awkward silence at first. Then one by one, each young person started telling their own story about loss.

Whether it was loss of a friend to drugs, suicide or loss of a parent, each of the youth had a story to share. Turned out, they needed that space to talk about their losses. Reconnecting Youth provides that space—a place where young people feel heard and understood.

Kudos to the youth facilitator for having the courage to start the conversation. It was a great reminder that this work is the right work. That while we engage with these young people to get back on track with their education, there’s healing that needs to happen along the way.

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