(By Gina Cuclis) “Employing teens, encouraging dreams” is the slogan of Sonoma Valley Teen Services. While the sign outside the building at 17440 Sonoma Highway in Boyes Hot Springs still has the old name, Valley of the Moon Teen Center, the programs inside have evolved to focus on youth employment, training and life skills.
Sonoma Valley Teen Services was created in 2010 when two nonprofit agencies, Operation Youth and Valley of the Moon Teen Center, merged. Its executive director, Cristin Lawrence, worked for both organizations for six-and-a-half years each, then later found herself at the helm of a new agency.
Marguerite LaDue is Sonoma Valley Teen Services new board president. She’s a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, whose compassion and belief in the potential of all youth is something I wish every adult had. For example, Marguerite hates the word “at-risk.”
“I say our teens are at-potential. They are at a crossroads. We help them understand what their potential is and help them explore it,” she said.
Photo: Cristin Lawrence and Marguerite LaDue of Sonoma Valley Teen Services
Marguerite is a relative newcomer to Sonoma, having moved here in 2012 from Florida after living many years in New York and working for IBM. She also brings to Sonoma experience in running a teen job-training program in New York.
I talked with Marguerite and Cristin last week at Sonoma Valley Teen Services. Marguerite said she got involved after meeting Cristin through Impact 100, which had provided funding to Teen Services.
“I fell in love with Cristin, Marguerite said. “Cristin has something you can’t teach.”
The two of them met for lunch to discuss Teen Services’ needs. Holding up her arms to pantomime a two to three feet long list, Marguerite said, “I told her to bring a list. The list was this long.”
“I decided Sonoma Valley Teen Services was the best kept secret in Sonoma Valley,” Marguerite said. She soon joined the board and immediately became president. She has used her professional marketing knowledge to lead the creation of a strategic vision and clear description of what Teen Services does. Its new mission statement is, “to empower teens to develop into happy, healthy, contributing members of their community.”
Teen Services provides teen employment and job training through three micro businesses. The No Name Café at Sonoma Valley High, which in addition to selling food and drinks also provides free after-school tutoring. Operation Bicycle, which refurbishes old bikes and teaches safe riding skills. The Lovin’ Oven, which creates in Teen Services’ commercial kitchen nutritious treats sold at the No Name Café, farmers markets, events and private parties.
Teen Services is also kicking-off a new paid internship program this summer called Healthy Habits for Life funded by the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance. Students will participate in an eight-week training program to become Wellness Ambassadors in order to reach out to their peers to provide information and develop strategies to promote the importance of healthy eating and daily exercise. The Wellness Ambassadors will also assist with a community garden.
In addition, Sonoma Valley Teen Services operates Teen Safe Ride, which provides vouchers for free taxi rides home for teens finding themselves in unsafe situations, and Outdoors to Excellence, which takes teens on outdoor adventures who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.
The Boyes Hot Springs building also continues to be a place for teens to drop-in and hangout after school. Cristin said many of the teens that become employed in one of the micro-businesses initially get connected to Teen Services by dropping in or by going to the No Name Café.
About that old sign I mentioned earlier, to get a new one Sonoma Valley Teen Services needs to raise the money or find a generous sign maker.