School is out for the summer, but Catawba County teenagers don’t have to worry about filling the void that once contained pop quizzes and final exams.
Teen Up, a program offered by Catawba County Social Services, is a free program that provides area preteens and teens an opportunity to engage in conversation, as well as activities, that promote the discussion of common adolescent issues like handling peer pressure, making smart choices and taking advantage of educational opportunities.
During the school year, students meet during the school day to participate in weekly Teen Up meetings with their peers. The program is open to males and females.
Once participants sign up for the Teen Up program, Teen Up counselor and social worker Nancy Fabac said they enter into a confidentiality contract that allows the participants to talk comfortably in a trusted environment. Unless something is said that, by law, must be reported, nothing discussed during Teen Up meetings is repeated.
“We discuss everything and anything in our Teen Up groups,” Fabac said, “and (the teens) know that we’re not going to go tell anybody.”
Techara Jimison , 15, has been participating in Teen Up for three years and said she enjoys meeting new people, as well as participating in different activities. But she also learned valuable life skills that she said are useful in her everyday life.
Counselors strive to teach the students about making smart choices when it comes to relationships, Fabac said.
In an effort to prevent teen pregnancies, Teen Up counselors offer their students accurate information about the advantages of remaining abstinent, as well as information on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, said Williams.
(Teen Up) teaches you how to be careful when it comes to relationships and other stuff,” Jimison said. “(The program) teaches you how to do the right thing.”
The program also wants their participants to understand the hardships that come with being a teen mother. Students have the option of taking home a computerized “baby” that simulates a newborn infant.
Jimison participated in this activity and said that it was an interesting experience.
“The baby was crying in my lap, “ Jimison said, “and I was crying in my mom’s lap.”
This lesson made a lasting impact in Jimison ’s life. When asked, “Did that make you…” Jimison finished the sentence herself. “Not want to have a baby? Yes, ma’am.”
Inside Teen Up
In addition to having group meetings where important discussions take place, Teen Up also offers participants a chance to engage in different activities that are fun and educational, Fabac said.
This summer, students participating in the Teen Up program have visited Appalachian State University, learned to complete job applications, danced their way through Zumba and picnicked by the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Teen Up isn’t just about taking field trips, meeting in groups or listening to group speakers. The program is also about providing opportunities to students that they might not have experienced on their own, Williams said.
Recently, a group of nine young ladies visited the Cosmetic Arts Academy in Newton.
“They got their hair and nails done and received facials, all because of the Cosmetic Arts Academy,” Fabac said.
For the past seven years, the Cosmetic Arts Academy has given complimentary services to young girls involved in the program. Fabac said it’s a win-win situation because the girls get to enjoy the treatments, and the students at the academy get to practice.
Alicia Fisher, director of the Cosmetic Arts Academy, appreciates the partnership between Teen Up and the academy. Fisher said that she integrates Teen Up’s emphasis on community service by focusing her students’ attention on giving back.
“We try to teach our students that with just a little bit of effort, they can give so much back to the community,” Fisher said. “This is one of the ways that we do that.”
While many activities in the summer include taking day trips and staying active, participants of the program also take the time to contribute to those in need. Recently, a group of teenagers prepared bag lunches for The Corner Table in Newton.
“We want to engage them in service-learning opportunities, so that they understand the importance of giving back to the community,” said Lori Williams, Catawba County Social Services prevention director.
Teen Up works closely with school systems in Catawba County to identify students who may benefit from Teen Up. While many students find their way to Teen Up by recommendations of guidance counselors, Williams said the program is open to anyone, grades fifth to12. To learn more about Teen Up, call Williams at (828)-695-4418.