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Project Safe Place in North Idaho joins Volunters of America

At-risk and homeless youth have a place to connect with adults and peers at Project Safe Place in Coeur d’Alene, a six-year-old program that became part of the Volunteers of America Spokane program in September.

Beth Barkley, a social worker and mother of two teens, started the program in a facility at 205 LaCrosse Ave., donated by Idaho Youth Ranch, with grants from the Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Department of Health and Welfare.

“There was a need for a safe place for youth to go.  With incidents of juvenile crime were higher in Coeur d’Alene than in the rest of the state,” she said, “so we started this as a prevention program.”

The local program connects with the national program of that name that started in 1984 in Louisville, Ky., and now has programs in 700 communities.

Yellow signs with the Safe Place logo in windows of businesses, agencies and public places say it is a place for a child or teen to go for safety.

“Perhaps a teen is being harassed in a mall after a movie.  Perhaps a teen does not have a safe driver to take her home.  Perhaps a child does not feel safe at home,” she said, listing a few of many reasons why youth might decide to go into the business and ask to call the program.

Beth said there are 89 locations in the Coeur d’Alene area with signs, including Lincoln Way Church of God, First Assembly of God, St. Vincent de Paul and Hayden Lake Faith Presbyterian.

Some youth driving through from Alaska, Minnesota, Missouri, Maryland and New Mexico have recently seen the sign, recognized it and stopped in for a meal, because the site is near the interstate highway.

Project Safe Place provides meals, a clothing bank, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and a gathering place.  An attendant is on call, so a teen can stay overnight if necessary.

Beth described it as a mini-Crosswalk, drawing about 12 teens.

“The youth are not necessarily homeless, but are from families on the edge.  Some have no dinner at home because parents work or are at the bar,” she said.  “It’s a step in prevention, so the youth do not become homeless.  Many who come are at risk of separating from families.  Some are in trouble, struggling at school or lacking a support system,” she said.

Beth, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1976, came to Coeur d’Alene about 20 years ago.

She has reached out to teens through the school system to tell them about the program.

Like Crosswalk, Project Safe Place would like to sign up churches to provide meals once a month, once a week or on some other schedule.  Some churches and individuals provide meals, but more are needed.  They also have breakfast, lunch and snack foods available for anyone who comes in crisis.

Family Worship Center in Hayden regularly donates bread and rolls.

A member of the North Idaho Unitarian Church, Beth said the project is consistent with her values and commitment to help people in need, especially children and teens.

“Every child needs a safe place to be, to help them find values and learn skills to be successful,” she said. 

Children and youth are vulnerable without good parenting, mentoring or role models, said Beth, adding, “The more strong, healthy adults youth relate with, the stronger they will be.”

At her 10th high school reunion, she learned that a friend had been physically abused by her father. 

That motivated me to try to have an effect and to change lives for youth in those situations,” Beth said.

Marilee Roloff, VOA’s director and founder of Crosswalk, finds this connection an example of “interstate cooperation and program evolution.”  VOA has registered to operate in Idaho and will support Project Safe Place in efforts to serve youth and families in North Idaho.

The programs have been collaborating for two years, serving runaway and homeless youth across the state border.

VOA served about 4,500 children, youth, families and single adults in 2003-04.  In addition, it distributes 40,000 children’s books a year, and participates in the Spokesman Review Christmas Bureau to provide 30,000 with food vouchers, toys, candy and books.

More than 350 youth attend the Crosswalk School and 16 earned GEDs or diplomas last spring.

Forty churches, families, service clubs and businesses help provide meals.

For information on Project Safe Place, call (208) 676-0772.  For information on VOA call 624-2378.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2004