Latasha Ford/Staff Writer
Wed, Mar 29, 2017

A unique opportunity for local youth to experience life’s choices and consequences is being introduced by Houston County Family Connection on April 8.

Designed to allow youth the opportunity to explore life-like situations and their consequences without real life permanency, the Teen Maze is an community-wide event incorporating youth, adults and parents, all working together to create healthy youth opportunities. Teenagers draw their fate out of a bag as professionals offer information and support students.

An open house will be held April 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gymnasium at Central Georgia Technical College, Warner Robins campus, located at 80 Cohen Walker Drive. In order for youth to attend the event on April 8, a time slot (10 to 11:30 a.m., noon to 1:30 p.m., 1:30 to 3 p.m. or 3 to 4:30 p.m.) must be reserved by contacting Tian Foss, executive director of Houston County Family Connection, at (478) 973-2622 or kidsjourney1@gmail.com.

Foss said the open house is designed for parents, local leaders and other adults in the community only, whereas the event on April 8 is for teens. She said they prefer that teens come with a group. They already have some churches and mentor groups signed up to attend, but parents are welcome to bring their child. Reservations must be made by April 6.

Going through high school, teens are faced with many decisions. The Teen Maze gives youth (grades 8-12) the opportunity to experience life consequences of risky behaviors in a safe and controlled environment. Teens make their way through the maze, which can include an accident scene, emergency room, jail and juvenile court and peer pressure situations.

The purpose of the Teen Maze is to show Houston County youth how the decisions they make now have long lasting effects on their lives and the lives of people around them. Consequences include pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), parenthood, DUI, texting while driving, underage drinking, bullying, etc.

There are approximately 40 stations in the maze — dating experiences, pregnancy (first, second and third trimesters), baby station, child care, bank, adoption agency, STD station, drugstore, alcohol, drugs, career center, graveyard and graduation. Other stations include mock wreck, drunk driving, mock emergency room and judicial stations.

The mission of the Teen Maze is to show positive behavior changes and improve the health of local youth. It provides youth a place to step back, experience and think before they are in the dangerous situation and forced to make the split second decision that could change their life forever. The maze provides youth with experience and accurate information that they can use to make decisions or talk to a parent/trusted adult about future decisions.

As an organization focused on improving families’ lives in the community, Foss said, “Over the 25 years that we’ve been in existence, we have kind of morphed into what we are today, which is a lot of us have become standalone nonprofits. But we still are in the vision and have the mission to improve the lives of children and families in our counties.” She noted every county in the state of Georgia has a Family Connection coordinator.

“We’re a group of people in the community — nonprofits, business leaders — who want to make a difference for children and families,” she said.

Foss said together they look at the data for the community and they decide what they want to do to impact it and what activities they want to do in the community.

She said when doing their review a year ago for the community to decide what they wanted to focus their efforts on, they ran across some data for Houston County: STD rates age 15-19 — 315 in 2013 and 346 in 2014; youth not in school and not working, age 16-19 — 698 in 2015; and students who graduate high school on time — 84.9 percent in 2015 and 86.7 percent in 2016.

“We were shocked by that,” Foss said about the numbers.

She said they had been discussing bringing a Teen Maze to Houston County over the years, but after seeing this data, they decided to do it this year. She said a group of them toured the Teen Maze in Cordele and also in Hawkinsville, which they all agreed to bring to this community.

Paulette Lemons, youth strategy chairperson for Houston County Family Connection and executive director of nonprofit Connections on the Parkway, said it was a wonderful experience to see the Teen Maze in those communities, which gave them great ideas about what they could do using their data to develop a local Teen Maze.

“Our goal with the Teen Maze is that we don’t want it to be a one-time event. We want it to be the start of a conversation between children and their parents, because we know parents are the No. 1 blind defense against risky behaviors,” Foss said, noting it’s important to have that open dialogue. She said their goal is for 500 youth to attend April 8.

Brittney Stewart with the Houston County Health Department said those teens who go through the maze can expect to be faced with some choices that they may have not thought about before but are definitely realistic and could happen.

“We want them to have an eye-opening experience as to what can happen if you don’t make the right choices,” she said.

The maze will begin with a party scene and then they will go to a crash scene and split into groups.

Foss said participants will take a pretest to get their opinions and thoughts on certain things and then they will take the test again after the maze to see if it made any impact. She said they will track the data long term as well.

Foss said Houston County hosted an eighth grade teen health forum, which was done for more than 20 years at the Georgia National Fairgrounds. She said it ended about four or six years ago and the school system started doing something in house.

“There is a big correlation between when they stopped doing that event and when our STD rates started rising,” Foss said. “We feel like this is a good replacement for that event and we’re hoping the board of education will come alongside us and help support it next year by bringing the eighth graders.”

Their hope is that at least one youth will stop and pause when they are put into situations and think about their choices and be in charge of their decision.

Lemons said the maze comes at a great time before prom, where students are faced with various choices.

She said she hopes this maze will lead to a discussion at home, church or among youth groups. Stewart said with the high STD rates, they want to address the problem.

“We’re talking about a serious health concern,” she said. “They’re getting younger and younger.”

She added making this a topic of discussion with parents and their children or children amongst children, then they’re doing their job.

Stewart said for parents who are timid or don’t want to talk about these matters with their child, they have to realize that they were once teens as well. She said especially today, teens are not the same as they were years ago.

“They are more advanced. They are acting more on their hormones. They are more willing to experiment with things and experiment to do things,” she said. “We have to keep topic of discussion open. There are definitely ways that are appropriate for parents to talk to their kids. Please don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about this.”

Foss said it’s a different culture today with the youth being exposed to so many things that they are not at the emotional capacity to handle.

“I think being afraid to talk about it has caused some of the problems. The adults have to take control. That’s how it works and that’s how it starts at least,” Lemons said.

She said every adult who goes through the maze will learn something. Goals for the Teen Maze is to help teens make good decisions, focus on the goal to graduate from high school, provide a view into consequences of choices (good and bad) and provide education in a hands-on learning environment where it is safe to ask questions.

“Our goal is for them to graduate without impacting those statistics negatively and to have a happy life so that generations to come can reproduce the positive products of what they learned and pass it on to others. And then generationally, we will have healthy children and families,” Lemons said.

HHJ News

Source:  http://hhjonline.com/houston-county-offers-firstever-teen-maze-p9556-90.htm