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Youth presenters tackle tough topics

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It’s a challenge talking to young people about tough issues, but it’s a task the Skitz group is willing to take on.

Skitz is made up of 12 youth members presenting on topics ranging from homophobia to cyberbullying to "safe partying."

For its work, the program received the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg’s Youth Peace Medal at the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba’s Government House in a ceremony on Nov. 21.

Melody Pendree, 16, who lives in Transcona and St. Vital, was proud to be recognized for the group’s work in such a swanky affair.

"I thought it was really cool because not a lot of people get invited to go to the house (Government House), especially those who are really young," Pendree said.

Skitz, which has been around since the 1990s, is run by the Peer Support program through Teen Talk at the Klinic Community Health Centre. The group presents at schools around the province every second Friday throughout the school year.

Tyndall Park resident Autumn Hotonani, 18, explained that students are often presented with difficult decisions, and Skitz is designed to help them best handle those situations.

"(We teach them) how to be responsible when making those decisions," she said.

East Kildonan resident Iris Rauliuk, 18, has been involved in the program since she was 14 after hearing about it from family friends who work with Klinic. Her brother, Joe, 16, joined three years later. Iris said she wishes she had seen the program when she was in high school.

"People love it," Rauliuk said. "We’re teenagers, so we can relate to them. It’s not adults telling 13-year-olds what to do, it’s 16-year-olds telling 13-year-olds ‘maybe this is a better idea.’ That’s a much easier way to communicate with middle school kids, so they get into high school and they know what they’re doing."

West End resident Dagen Perrott, 17, noted youth tend to be receptive to the messages presented about situations they’re facing, but there’s the odd time that the adults in the room are uneasy with the content.

"There’s been once or twice where it’s been almost a little controversial with some teachers, because it goes against their personal views, but it’s never a big deal. It’s almost always completely positive," he said.

He added the group is constantly working to keep its repertoire fresh, most recently adding a skit addressing the issues of cyberbullying and homophobia called "Linked." The youth members will come up with topics and general plot lines, and older Peer Support members will write the full scene for presentation.

At the end of each Skitz performance, audience members receive feedback forms they can submit anonymously.

"Most days, there are one or two people who say ‘how can I get help in some certain situation?’" said Perrott, who has been involved with the group since January.

The feedback forms also provide topic ideas for the group, Pendree said.

Those who are looking to get involved can sign up for a 35-hour Peer Support training session. The next session is slated for Tuesday evenings from Feb. 11 to Apr. 22.

For more information, visit www.teentalk.ca, contact peersupport@teentalk.ca, call 204-784-4010 or text 204-223-0227.

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