On any given day, there are two to 15 youths between ages 12 and 21 at Street Teens, a nonprofit organization based in Sunrise. The youths take refuge inside the warm building, where hot meals and warm showers are provided.
The organization is run by a handful of employees, interns and volunteers. It is open 365 days a year between 4 and 8 p.m. The drop-in center focuses on helping homeless, abandoned and at-risk youths.
“We’re here to meet their immediate needs,” said Lorna Heaton, staff member at Street Teens. “That means that they can come in any day during the week, and they are guaranteed a hot meal, shower, shelter and a bed.”
In addition, the organization provides a washer and dryer for laundry, computers so youths can look for jobs and assistance for those who want to obtain their GED diplomas.
There are two part-time staff members, four interns and 10 volunteers who are in charge of different tasks. The first thing they do is an intake on each new youth who enters the organization.
The intakes are important because organization members can assess the youths and see what they need the most help with.
Heaton added that the center provides a storage room where youths can take limited amounts of hygiene products, food, clothing and water.
“We want to make sure that they’re going to be all right and not starve on the streets,” Heaton said.
Since teens can become prey to dishonest adults, the organization remains discreet and does not advertise its location.
Teens hear about the organization mainly through word of mouth or through various speaking events to which staff members are invited.
While Street Teens does not provide overnight shelter, Heaton said staff members are in charge of providing shelter referrals.
Kim Milar, an intern at Street Teens, said it is important for staff members to remain nonjudgmental with the teens so that they could gain their trust. Some youths also come into the center pregnant, and the staff helps provide essential information for the soon-to-be mothers.
“A lot of the kids come from different backgrounds,” Milar said. “Some are homeless because of dysfunctional families or they’ve been through abusive relationships or came from the foster care system.”
Youths are allowed to enter the center without identification only up to three times. If they do not have identification, staff members help youths obtain one.
Heaton said she started working at the organization after she lost her job at a behavioral center for youths who were caught up in the foster care system who had emotional or behavioral problems. The center closed , and she was referred to Street Teens shortly after.
“Soon, my two nights a week turned into six to seven nights a week,” Heaton said. “I love working here. The kids that come in are very humble, very grateful. There’s not a night that our kids don’t tell us thank you or give us a hug.”
Milar started volunteering at the center in May and became an intern in September.
“A lot of people have a misconception of who these kids are,” Milar said. “They think that homeless kids are gangbangers or drug addicts. Most people don’t trust them. We’re here to provide them with motivation, and we empower them.”
Lisa Preston, executive director of Street Teens, said the organization has been largely successful due to its army of helpers.
“We would not be able to serve the kids without our volunteers,” Preston said. “We would rather use the funds to provide services to the kids than to use the funds to pay staff members. There are so many people in our community that want to give back that it is a perfect fit for Street Teens.”
Preston said the organization has had many youths pass through its doors and go on to get their driver’s license, obtain their GED certificate, enroll at the College of Southern Nevada and find jobs.
An 18-year-old who wishes to remain anonymous said he appreciated the warm meals and services the center offers.
“Street Teens has been a positive experience in my life,” he said. “I don’t have family who lives in Las Vegas. I usually spend the night wherever I can. Places vary from missions to parks or couch surfing.”
Another 19-year-old said he is an orphan and that the center has helped him find jobs.
“This place provides me with a lot of help,” the teen said. “The staff members have also helped me with emotional and mental support. I’m really thankful for them.”
The organization accepts donations of money, clothing, food, shoes and other items.
In the spirit of the holidays, the organization is collecting money to spend $75 on a Christmas present for each youth.
For more information on the organization, visit streetteens.org. Youths interested in the organization can call 702-809-3585.
“A lot of them just need someone to listen to and a sense of guidance,” Heaton said. “We’re not here to judge them. We don’t care what color they are or what their sexuality is. We’re just here to help them in any way we can.”
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Sandy Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4686.