Empowering area Youth

January 2022 View more

Three inspirational banners hang inside Heart Haven OutReach. The banners include messages that every person should believe about themselves: “You are loved without strings,” “You are lovable, capable and worthwhile,” and “You are not alone.” But for many teens who come into the center, those words are as foreign to them as another language. 

Heart Haven OutReach, better known as H2O, has been serving at-risk teens in the greater Bolingbrook area for over 16 years. The nonprofit supports and mentors over 450 middle and high school students in the Valley View School District and outlying areas. Launched in 2005, the organization was founded by a task force of community leaders seeking ways to help students facing discipline issues. Instead of just expelling or suspending them, H2O wanted to provide them with mental health resources, coping skills, and mentoring opportunities.

Located in the Bolingbrook Community Center, H2O offers tutoring support groups, recreational activities, community service projects, mentoring, and in-school support. “Our mission is to reach out to students holistically—socially, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually,” explains executive director Ryan Lawrence. “Each program we offer addresses one or two of those needs. Students can pick and choose what kind of support they need and come to those specific programs.” As a faith-based organization, the nonprofit offers youth ministry programs as well. 

In addition to the community center, H2O holds programs inside the Valley View District’s middle and high schools. “We do a lot of outreach in the schools,” says Lawrence. “We are often in the lunchrooms, just building relationships with kids and telling them about our program. A lot of times they want to know more about us how they can get involved.” Kids also are referred to the program through their school social worker, dean, or counselor. 

Once involved, the students work with adults who care about them and are willing to invest in their lives. Mindsets start to change as they feel supported, says Lawrence, and students then realize they can contribute to the community. Most importantly, they become empowered. “H2O has helped me with my emotions, how to deal with daily life situations, stress, and bring back my happiness,” a Bolingbrook High School sophomore recently attested. 

“Research shows that kids who have five positive adults in their life, outside of their immediate family, are going to have more success in life,” Lawrence points out. “That’s why I am passionate about getting our community to embrace and empower our kids. If we do that, these kids are going to be more successful, more confident, and get in less trouble because they will know they are loved, they are cared for and they are supported.” To learn more, visit hearthavenoutreach.org

Photo courtesy Heart Haven OutReach