Working with at-risk youth and their families

BY PUNEET SANDHU, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Thaise Educational and Exposure Tours (TEET) is a Children in Need of Services (CINS) and Families in Need of Services (FINS) program that services at-risk youth ages six to 17 and their families. The program runs in St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville and Sarasota and aims to keep at-risk youth in school and off the streets.

TEET got its humble beginnings in Sarasota some 20 years ago when Executive Director Teresa Clove witnessed a lot of children falling through the cracks. She gathered professional and lay people and formed an organization to help underserved area youth.

“We try to show them a better way of life, get them off the streets, out of drugs and away from prison. Showing them that they can have a good life by staying in school and continuing their education,” Clove said.

Program Manager Barbara Burnett said TEET is in part a referral service. Students who are referred to the program sometimes by teachers or truancy counselors, have the option to sit down with TEET counselors for an assessment to develop a service plan. Based on any individual’s needs, the counselors can refer children and their families to additional services that can aid them. Partners include various schools, drug and alcohol programs, such as The Boys and Girls Club.

Housed in the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S., the organization is free for all participants and is sponsored by The Department of Juvenile Justice and the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services.

Individual counseling is a large part of a TEET service plan. The program offers in-school and at-home counseling. The St. Petersburg arm offers mental health counseling and case management services. They work with not only the child but the entire family. One-on-one sessions are conducted once a week usually at the child’s school.

“When a child is referred to us, the child normally has some type of need, whether it’s academic needs, behavioral needs, truancy, if they’re ungovernable, if they’re a delinquent, whatever the reason. We take students of any race or background,” said Clove. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what race you are, we don’t care. If a referral comes in we service everybody.”

Once a referral comes in, parents will be contacted to schedule a visit to explain the program to tell them and to find out if they’re interested in receiving services. Their services are strictly voluntary. TEET does not force parents or children to participate. “They must want to participate in our free service,” averred Clove.

According to Clove, the program is based on “prevention and intervention,” and a service plan for an individual child usually runs between two and 12 weeks.

However, Burnett and Clove emphasized that as each case is different, some children may need more time in the program. TEET also follows up with the students who complete the program.

“When we complete, we don’t just drop the child, we refer them on to additional services if the need arises,” Clove said.

In addition to case management and counseling, TEET offers participants enrichment courses. Burnett said the enrichment courses are usually offered once a month.

“We cover topics such as job skills, drug prevention, HIV/AIDS awareness, anger management, conflict resolution, pregnancy prevention and peer pressure,” Burnett said. “The kids come out talking about how much they enjoyed the classes just as much as the adults, because we include the parents if they want to come as well.”

They also have guest speakers come in and tell about their careers to give the students an idea of what kind of professions are available in the community.

TEET usually has one guest speaker per month. Past speakers have included law enforcement officials, legislatures, doctors, lawyers and teachers.

Other services include career guidance and assistance with college and financial aid applications.

Additionally, TEET arranges guided college tours for their older students. The tours are aligned with school breaks so that children do not have to miss school days.

“The colleges normally have an admissions officer speak with our students,” Clove said. “They tell us about the university and requirements, and then we take a walking tour of the campus. A lot of our kids have come to our program and had no knowledge of college and no desire to attend college, but after attending our programs and going on college tours, it completely changed their mindsets.”

The college tours are usually in state but can be out of state as well. Private donors usually help fund the field trips. For the upcoming spring break, Clove said that St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Sarasota students would be catching a train to visit a campus in Savannah, Ga. While touring a campus, the students will also often visit nearby museums or art galleries.

TEET students give back to the community in various volunteering efforts, especially around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Students also have the opportunity to raise money for short field trips or cruises. Past trips have included Paris, Toronto and many different states throughout the U.S. The Bahamas cruise is popular and convenient, Clove said, and they will try to host another trip to the Bahamas this year.

“The whole purpose of it is to show them that it’s a big world out there and anything you want to do, you can strive for it and you can do it with a little hard work,” stated Clove.

This grassroots organization typically services 400 children per year across the four cities. In recent years, many younger students have been referred to the program. Clove said that middle school children are having a lot of the same behavioral issues as the older children such as ungovernable conduct.

“It’s often caused by dysfunction in the family,” she stated. That’s why we offer family counseling as well. If you don’t resolve some of the issues in the home, then the child is not going to change their behavior.”

TEET also offers parenting workshops that teach how to raise an ungovernable child, or any child for that matter. Clove said the program has some parents that are still in their teens and are trying to raise a baby, so they teach them how to be a parent.

After 20 years of servicing children of different ages, Clove has gained some insight into the issues particular to each age group.

The younger children’s issues usually centers on being angry because of the dysfunction in their family. “They’re coming from young parents who are not being parents to the children because they’re trying to still have a life,” she said. “So those kids come to school with a lot of attitude and they take it out on the teachers.”

The middle school aged children are also angry, “but a lot of it is they’re going through that stage trying to identify themselves and separate themselves from the parents, and going through peer pressure,” Clove stated.

The program sees many of the high schoolers having academic difficulty, which Clove thinks is because they didn’t get what they needed in elementary and middle school.

“We have quite a few that are taking remedial courses just in order to catch up. But a lot of high schoolers are more focused now and looking to go to college, so for them we’re doing a lot of prevention classes, drug prevention and pregnancy prevention, trying to keep them on track.”

TEET is always enrolling. Referrals and walk-ins are welcomed. For more information on how to join the program, please call 727-482-9414 or log on to www.Thaise.org.

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