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MAKING A MARK: Regional group offers helping hand to at-risk youth

Tidewater Youth Services is helping kids and teens overcome challenges and lead productive lives.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A local organization is helping kids and families move forward.

Jessica Lee is the program coordinator of Tidewater Youth Services. The public agency and nonprofit support at-risk and court-involved youth.  

"Just because a youth is changing, we need the family to change as well [be]cause the environment could sometimes be part of the situation, part of the problem," said Lee.

Jenny Hodge is the organization's executive director.

"We like to say Tidewater Youth Services is in the business of second chances," said Hodge. "Youth on parole, probation, and just giving them that second chance at getting it right and getting the support they need to make it successfully through the court system."

The organization provides resources to kids and families like housing, clinical services, along with community outreach and re-entry programs. 

"These youth have gone through a tremendous amount of trauma themselves," said Hodge. "That acting out behavior is a result of the trauma and the violence that they may have seen, or it's just... something might not chemically be right inside of them."

"They're able to get the services that they need in a safe environment," said Lee.

Navigating the juvenile justice system can be overwhelming for kids and teens. Lee and Hodge said they don't have to do it alone.

"We are that buffer for the youth to be able to explain the process and ask the right questions," said Lee.

"We work really hard to maintain good relationships with judges, parole officers, probation officers so that we can then be those good advocates for our youth," said Hodge.

The organization's goal is to help at-risk youth maximize their potential and map their future.

"They deserve it," said Hodge, "and our role as the adults in their life is to help build that social support-- that scaffolding-- that, for whatever reason, they weren't getting in their regular life to give them that opportunity for a restart."

"Their past is their past, and you can't change that," said Lee. "How you conduct yourself forward is what's important."

Tidewater Youth Services wants you to join them for their next fundraiser. The 27th Annual Santa Claus Shuffle 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run is Sunday, Dec.12 at 8:30 a.m., at the Atlantic Union Pavilion in Portsmouth. You can also participate virtually.

Visit the Santa Claus Shuffle website to learn more, sign up or make a donation.