piece of paper that came with the game or where along with the assortment of pieces, they weregiven instructions to make a choice from a set of possible solutions, and where youth acquiresome knowledge and practice in a practical way and then are empowered to create or constructsomething where they can apply the knowledge or principals, practice this, learn by trial, error,and reflection, and then be able to synthesize this knowledge into their own toolkit and integrateor adapt it to the realities in which they live, i.e. if they know what they are doing, they cancreate something from what is available to them in a given situation.In this model of working with youth, on survival or life skills, on HIV prevention, on HIV testing,the professionals or peer educations act as facilitators not powerful experts. They rely on theprocess they are facilitating to create an enabling social environment, where youth feelcomfortable gathering together formally or informally, where individually and as a group they feelencouraged to identify situations, experiences, and problems as they see it, and where thefacilitators are able to assist the youth in prioritizing their concerns and creating a tool kit of practical information, concepts and skills that can help them back out on the street to ensure thatthey have food, clothing, and shelter from day to day, that they are physically as safe as theycan be, and that they can be more competent in the everyday life world where they sociallyinteract, do business, and find emotional and psychological comfort and support.This programmatic approach interests youth because it is action oriented, allows them to interactwithin a peer group, and provides them with experience where they can immediately acquirestreet and business skills-- the toolkit-- that equips and strengthens their resilience in thechallenging street life and family life in which they are more than likely to be on their own and tohave to do thinking and make decisions like adults.
The Story of an HIV Prevention Program for Street Youth
The history of a street youth program called “Safe Horizons” offers another example. At a timewhen the crack cocaine epidemic was at its peak in NY and HIV infection rates were still climbing,Edith Springer, a social worker and early harm reduction advocate, and Rod Sorge, a youngpioneer and activist in needle exchange when it was still illegal, helped develop an outreachprogram among street involved youth who were using crack and were engaged in sex work.Street involved youth were paid a small but meaningful weekly stipend to do outreach work andHIV prevention within their peer networks and to participate in a weekly group meeting andtraining. Over months, assisted by Springer and Sorge, but facilitated by revolving groupmembers, the group developed their own contract for how the group would function, which wasthen agreed to and followed by its members. Group meetings included plans or preparation of food of the food they would consume together during the meeting (to ensure that at least once aweek they ate well), debriefing from the week’s outreach, discussion of personal issues, largergroup concerns, and problem solving.In this program, the young people were seen as “workers” who came into the program from aposition of strength individually and collectively as helpers rather than as needing help or as“problems” themselves. This was important because many of the youth had troubled histories of asking for help from adults. At the same time, Springer noted that she was in a helping ortherapeutic relationship with her young workers. As trust built among members, within thegroup, and with her, it became more okay to ask for and rely on help. The youth had peers butnow they also had a constant adult presence who respected them, earned their trust, andmirrored back to them, a loving and affirmative (positive) view of themselves.The groups showed a similarly flexible approach, and positive results, when it came to drugs.While the groups were not drug-free, members learned to come to the group, in a sense,” fit for