Streetwork's Harlem Center: Peer Education

TWISTED Peer Education Room

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Many of the young people that come to Streetwork work on the streets themselves, trading sex in the hope of safety and sustenance.

Streetwork is able to reach these young people by offering them help and information and empowering them to make their own decisions -- without judgment.

One of Streetwork’s most powerful ways to reach young people is to through the peer education program, TWISTED: Teens With Intense Street Techniques and Education. Current clients are recruited as educators at Streetwork’s drop-in center.

Martin Glenn, Assistant Director, runs the intensive, 30-hour training program. "We teach them about negotiating safer sex," Martin explains, "and then how to teach other people."

Then the peer educators take action. "They talk to people when they go out into their neighborhoods, out "on the stroll," or wherever they are in life. They hand out safe sex packets and encourage other young people to practice safe sex."

Engaging homeless and street-involved youth in educating their peers means that lifesaving information gains credibility and reaches those who need it most. The program also gives the young educators the opportunity to realize their own self-worth, their ability to make safe choices and their power to help others to do the same. Yet, Martin explains: "We have a heavy charge on our young people. They have the responsibility to go out and talk to other young people while they’re going through a lot of different transitions themselves."

For those who do participate in the program, helping their peers often becomes a source of pride and community, especially during challenging times. The holidays are particularly hard for homeless youth, and Martin remembers one peer-educator meeting during this season. "We were talking about doing outreach during the holidays. A lot of the young people were struggling with not having a family of their own to go to," Martin recalls, "But doing the outreach -- contributing to society in that way -- made them feel so much better and so much more important. That was really a beautiful moment."

Next stop: Wellness Center.

Need help? Call Streetwork at 1.800.708.6600.

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