Helping at-risk teens grow and developThere are many misconceptions about homeless teens, but Lisa Preston, executive director at Street Teens, can explain the facts.
According to Preston, Nevada has the highest number of teen pregnancies in the country. The number of throwaway, runaway and “couch-surfing” youth (especially the pregnant and/or parenting population moving from one friend’s home to another) is estimated to be in the thousands. Las Vegas also has the highest dropout rates in the nation and was recently ranked 50th in education.
“Homeless youth do not have a good quality of life,” Preston explained. “In general, basic survival needs are not being met, and any thought of the future is non-existent.” By providing basic needs services, such as food, as well as a safe respite off the streets, Street Teens is helping to improve youths’ quality of life. Once a youth is fed and clothed, issues such as health, calling home, getting a job, going to school or obtaining a GED can be addressed.
Street Teens, a 501(c)3 corporation founded in January 2000 by husband and wife David and Rosario Mereaux, was established as a volunteer organization to serve Las Vegas’ runaway and throwaway adolescents. However, the organization was prohibited from providing any service to any minor without parental consent. Still, outreach teams were on the streets surrounding the University of Nevada, Las Vegas looking for teens in need. On October 1, 2001, the “Right to Shelter” law went into effect, and since then, Street Teens has grown to provide a safe haven seven days per week. The Sanctuary, a full-service drop-in center, serves at-risk and transient youth with a variety of programs designed to meet their basic needs and create sustaining self-sufficiency.
Preston explained that many of the teens are transient and involved in survival sex. Their sexual activities put them at great risk for contracting HIV and possibly AIDS. It is estimated that within 48 hours of the time a homeless teen can no longer stay with friends, he or she will have engaged in at least one act of survival sex. By building trust, the street outreach volunteers can eventually bring the teen into the drop-in center for services.
Volunteers offer hot meals, showers and clean clothes. Street Teens has partnered with the Health District, where any teen can receive a full range of services including treatments for sexually transmitted diseases, prophylactics, family planning assistance and sexual education.
Born and raised in Canada, it was a professor who was also an attorney who inspired Preston. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in criminology and sociology as well as a certificate in nonprofit management.
In 2003, she moved to Las Vegas to accept her current position at Street Teens. “At the time, I thought I would try it for a year and see how I liked it. Turns out, I love it, and 13 years later, I am still here and very much enjoying what I do,” she said.
Patricia Johnston, who was the board president of Street Teens, was her mentor. “We have worked hand and hand all these years together, and she is definitely my greatest supporter.”
Preston has also mentored others, including Chelsea Moe, who came to Street Teens as a University of Phoenix intern. Once her internship ended, an offer of employment was extended to her, and she accepted. “She has so much potential and is wonderful with our kids. We are very lucky to have her as part of the team at Street Teens, and it has been wonderful to help her along in her career.”
Personally, Preston has two children, Cole, age 5, and Riley, age 3, who keep her very busy. Parenting her own family while assisting with other teens is one of the many ways that Lisa Preston demonstrates being a Fearless Female.