By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Jenna Parks is on a mission to help young people avoid problems she’s recovered from.
After a long struggle with drugs, she’s helping teens in the Kosciusko County juvenile justice system through the program Keepin’ It Real. She co-founded it with another woman last year.
As part of the program, teens in both the teen court and probation system hear from adult speakers about their past life choices. The kids come to the bimonthly meetings in the county justice center either by choice or requirement.
“We started just with a passion for kids,” she said. “We were really messed up teenagers and we knew what led us into addiction was because of choices we made at a very young age and we spent 20 years in addiction. We wanted to be able to stop that sooner.”
“We didn’t want people to end up in their 30s and 40s and losing everything, custody of their kids and go through all this extra trauma that was unnecessary, if they could just stop at 15, 16,” she continued.
She cited God for being the reason the program was able to start.
“Doors opened this way and I follow where God leads me and He started kicking these doors open, so I just continued to go there,” Parks said. “Whoever needs to hear the message, like if we can just save one, that’s all I care about.”
About 30 teens attended the Oct. 26 event. Parks said it was the largest turnout the program’s had so far.
“We’re realizing more and more that teenagers need help. They don’t have anyone to talk to and they feel like no one understands them,” she said. “We’re just trying to give them a voice and let them know that we understand.”
The featured speakers for the night were April Harrison and Hans Bickel. Both had past struggles with drugs and alcohol.
The kids could ask the speakers questions after their talk. They also were given surveys to fill out with feedback.
Parks said the program might expand in the future to schools. She said she’d consider reaching out to them to do assemblies.
The program has received funding from Kosciusko County, which Parks plans to use to give out items like T-shirts and water bottles to the teens.
Parks noted the program is invaluable for the teens because “all of us have something.”
“It might not be drugs or addiction but kids are self-harming and having sex way too young and just things that are very damaging,” she said.
“I hope they just heard that they’re not alone and they can make better choices and that they have more power in their lives than what they know,” she said of what she hopes the kids gained from Monday’s event.