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Youth program goes bilingual.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

Be a LEADer LEAD, a Eugene-based youth-leadership program for low-income adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, is now recruiting new members for its three groups, which meet weekly from mid-September through June. Two groups are based in Eugene. A third group for Spanish-speaking teens will meet in Springfield. The program is free to teens who qualify for free or reduced school lunch programs or other types of aid. To sign up, phone LEAD's office at 342-TEEN. For more information, visit www.leadteen.com

SPRINGFIELD - For the past decade, the LEAD youth program has helped guide hundreds of local, low-income teens through the rough waters of adolescence.

Now, organizers of the Leadership, Education, Adventure, Direction program say it's time to focus some of their work on the Eugene-Springfield area's growing Latino population.

A youth group designed specifically with Spanish-speaking teens in mind will begin weekly meetings this month in Springfield. About the only difference between LEAD's two English-language clubs in Eugene and the new group is that the program's existing leadership-development curriculum will be presented in Spanish.

"We've been wanting to outreach to teens and families who are Spanish-speaking and don't access our services in English," LEAD director Maj Rafferty said. "We know there are a lot of teens who can benefit from this. We've had (Spanish speakers attend the English-based groups), but we figure these things will make more sense to them in their first language."

Those "things" include promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle and developing leadership skills.

Rafferty and others say the need for a Spanish-language version of the LEAD program has increased sharply since the organization started in 1996.

"This will bridge a huge gap in this community, and I am thrilled to see it happening here," said Patricia Cortez, youth program coordinator at Amigos Multicultural Services Center in Eugene. "I don't know of any other program like (LEAD) that offers its services in (Spanish). This can only help us create a more collective community, and one that embraces all kinds of people."

It's unclear how many Spanish-speaking teens live in Lane County. Census counts put the county's Hispanic population at about 17,000, but that could be a low estimate.

The new group will meet Wednesday evenings at Brattain House, which through the Springfield School District provides community services, including an English-language learning program for Spanish-speaking students. Many of those youngsters will likely join the LEAD group, said Gloria Griffin, a Brattain House project coordinator.

To qualify for LEAD, a youth must be between the ages of 12 and 17 and qualify for free or reduced lunch programs or other assistance. LEAD is a nonprofit funded through private donations, grants and contributions from the city of Eugene and Lane County.

To many teens, LEAD works as a support group. Some join to gain leadership and job skills. Others sign up because they'll get a chance to take part in monthly outings where they can raft a river or go scuba diving. Youths involved with the program typically come from families who can't afford to go on those sorts of trips, Rafferty said.

Before participating in any LEAD activities, teens must pledge to follow what the group calls the Three Commitments: staying in school through graduation, obeying the law, and identifying and following a "life assignment" of their choosing.

Anyone who breaks a rule faces discipline from a peer review board, which can suspend teens from the program.

"It's like positive peer pressure, and it works," Rafferty said. "A lot of (the teens) don't have powerful role models, so they latch on to LEAD and it becomes a great thing for them. They're able to share their own difficulties with others who understand where they're coming from, and it gives them a chance to work together and figure out ways to solve those problems."
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Title Annotation:Schools; This month in Springfield, LEAD will begin weekly meetings that are geared specifically toward Spanish-speaking teens
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 3, 2006
Words:643
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