Skirt the Issue - Help from Friends

A Virginia Beach group aims to show troubled teens that they're not alone

By Kristen De Deyn Kirk

Stepping into the spotlight can be a scary thing, especially when you’re a child. All eyes are on you, and there’s nowhere to hide. You might just make a fool of yourself and get laughed at. Or worse.

About 300 teens in Virginia Beach know what that kind of attention feels like. A judge has already figuratively shone a spotlight on them. They are on parole for offenses ranging from fighting and skipping school to drug possession and stealing. Their first time in the spotlight can only be considered a success in that the judge didn’t send them to prison for a long time and instead suggested working with a parole officer and the Friends of the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

A non-profit group led by Executive Director Christie Ross and a board of 13, the Friends reaches out to the youth in a variety of ways. One option to help them is participation in the Urban Theatre Company, run through Virginia Beach’s Old Broads Way Theatre Company. The teens meet at the theater and learn about the process of producing a play.

As Ross sees it, the more active the child is and the more pro-social the chosen activity the better. This is their chance to make a “spotlight” a literal thing—and a good one at that.

“Many of them are so talented and never had an outlet for it,” says Ross. “It fits in with our goal of promoting positive change in youth. Many of these children are victims themselves and come from impoverished families that are struggling.”

The Friends has worked with Old Broads Way for a while and is seeking more opportunities and outlets. The last two years have been challenging. Support from the state budget completely disappeared, so Ross was hired about a year ago to seek alternative funds. Asked what the annual budget was when she arrived, Ross laughed. “It was $40,000,” she said when done chuckling.

As a former vice president of major gifts and planned giving for Trident United Way in Charleston, S.C., Ross has proven herself to be a good match for the organization. She has focused on donors and grants, recently securing $40,000 from a new foundation.

All told, the organization’s budget has tripled to approximately $120,000.

Sending more teens to Old Broads Way will now be possible, as will increasing support to them in the way that sometimes is most important—financially.

The Friends tries to be there for the teens and their families when they can’t make ends meet. Sometimes, it’s offering scholarships for classes or giving them funds to fill an unexpected prescription. Or they might need bus money to get to a job interview—or maybe new clothes to wear to the interview. Other times, the family just needs food to make it to the next pay day.

“When some people hear ‘Virginia Beach,’ they think ‘affluent,’” says Ross, “but it’s not the case for everyone.”

One area of the city Ross hopes to concentrate on is Bayside. She sees an opportunity to help troubled teens grow both individually and as a community. In September, she hired someone to introduce and coordinate community service programs. The details haven’t been worked out, but she knows she will focus on projects that bring the teens together, help the community is some way and, most importantly, give the teens some real skills. She thinks picking up garbage on the side of the road is nice and so is stacking books at a library, but doing so is not going to help her teens grow or build a resume.

“We want the teens to be marketable and also have a sense of pride in their community,” says Ross. “We think this will make them less likely to commit crimes in their neighborhood.”

Hopefully, more opportunities and support will continue to come as the Friends brings in more money. This month it is hosting the Cape Henry Duathlon on Nov. 19. If all goes well, about 800 people will come out, either to run in a 5k or tackle the duathlon, which is a 5k run, then a 22.5K bike, and finally another 5k run. That’s a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it on your own. Just like Ross tries to teach the kids on parole, you’re allowed to ask a “friend” for help.

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