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Efforts to help young teens in SE Wisconsin struggling with stress, relationships and other life pressures

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Posted at 5:26 AM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-29 07:34:49-05

WHITEWATER, Wis. — In our Two America’s series, we take a look at the struggles young teenagers are facing in both urban and rural settings.

We will first take you to Whitewater, where a library hopes to grab the attention of young people. Then to Milwaukee, where a local organization has been changing young girls' lives for decades.

Even in a city of under 15,000, getting the attention of teens in Whitewater is hard.

Torrie Thomas with Whitewater’s Irvin L. Young Memorial Library is compelled to change that.

"These kids are dealing with deeper concerns that hit a little closer to home," Thomas said. "Stress in family relationships, different family dynamics and relationships they’re having at school.”

Her focus helped garner attention from ‘The American Library Association' and ‘Association of Rural and Small Libraries.’ A $3,000 grant helped her prepare to host a community event at Whitewater Middle School.

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Photo Courtesy: Tom Ganser

The responses from students surprised Thomas. “A lot of them shared some pretty personal things and struggles they have at home and at school, so a lot of mental health concerns came up," said Thomas.

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Photo Courtesy: Tom Ganser

Leaders at the library came up with their first event called ’Stress Less Saturdays.’ For their first event, they made cards. 11-year-old Letty Trautman was there. “It was really relaxing,” she said.

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Photo Courtesy: Tom Ganser

She described the challenges of the past year with virtual learning.

“This year we're in-person and it's a lot easier because math has always been a struggle for me," said Letty. "There can be a lot of friendship drama going on and not to mention with the homework and stuff.”

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, ‘P.E.A.R.L.S. For Teen Girls’ has been in the community for nearly 30 years. Leaders there have heard similar issues with the girls they serve from fifth to twelfth grade. P.E.A.R.L.S. stands for Personal responsibility, Empathy, Awareness, Respect, Leadership and Support.


“You want to be seen, you want to be heard, and you want to be respected, valued, and that the thoughts you have are important to the table,” said Jasmine Deacon with ‘PEARLS.’

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Eventually, Thomas hopes to have the same impact on teens in Whitewater. “If we can make that connection and engage with these kids now, then going forward they’re going to be reoccurring library learners," Thomas said.

Showing no matter where you live in Southeast Wisconsin, everyone is connected to their community.

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