SONY DSCThe Teen Outreach Program® participants laughed and teased each other as if they had grown up together.

Six weeks ago they were strangers, prepared to be bored at the sessions of Volunteers of America’s new teen development initiative. But they were pleasantly surprised.

“It’s fun,” said Kayla, 13. “I like that they listen.”

Sarah, 15, added “You feel comfortable.”

The program, affiliated with the Wyman Center in St. Louis, supports academics, but emphasizes life skills and community service.

Starting in August, Volunteers of America plans to enroll 350 students in the program. Teens are required to take a pre-survey at registration, and will receive a $50 gift card. Then half the students will be selected for the full training and community service aspect of TOP®.

To the coordinators, TOP® is about giving teenagers one more avenue for support. Each week they cover topics such as communication, goals and relationships, and the teens say it makes them think differently about topics they thought they knew.

“I can meet new people and see their views on things that I have trouble understanding,” 16-year-old Shauntavia said.

The program is open to all Shreveport-Bossier City teens ages 12-17. Teens will be split up by age group for the weekly club meetings, and meetings will be held at various locations depending on the teens enrolled.

To register, visit the website, or email Program Coordinator Jennifer Stinson at jennifer.stinson@voanorthla.org for more details.

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