A new spectrum of services for teens is now available each Thursday at the Phoenix Theater, coming as an expansion of a popular teen health clinic that has been provided at the historic youth gathering place for about a decade.
Through the new program, Phoenix Rising, youth will now find five local women — school counselors, pastors, nurses and more — offering everything from self defense classes to meditation to tutoring.
The idea, said program organizer Helen Grieco, is to have a place where every kid knows they can come on Thursdays at 4 p.m. and get help if they need it.
For the last decade, Family Nurse Practitioner Cheryl Negrin has been providing just that on a volunteer basis. Aided by her daughters Jaime and Norah Rapaport, Negrin treats about 1500 patients through the clinic, seeing about 10 to 20 kids a week, often for "sensitive services," like counseling for birth control options and checks for sexually transmitted infections, as well as annual exams.
Despite being able to help kids in many areas, Negrin and her daughters have noticed that youth come to them with other issues beyond their expertise, like drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and to how to deal with "out of hand" situations.
In a November article, the Argus-Courier reported that Negrin was seeking ways to team up with other community members or organizations that could provide services like counseling to the same youths she was seeing.
After hearing about the need, several local women came forward and offered to help.
For Grieco, who founded a nonprofit, BRAVE People, dedicated to teaching at-risk youth how to lead safe, healthy lives, and served as former Executive Director of the California National Organization for Women, the new effort at the Phoenix is a way to help kids in similar situations to the one she found herself in as a young woman.
"I see the youth on the street and I see myself," said the energetic Petaluman. "I'm doing this because I know what it's like to be lost."
Grieco will be offering self defense, environmental education, and monetary advice, among other things.
Another woman who stepped forward after reading about the need for help at the clinic was Lorrie Ragozzino, a retired school counselor whose daughter spent time at the Phoenix as a young woman. "I had a special feeling about the Phoenix," Raggozino said, acknowledging that she didn't initially feel that way — when one of her daughters first started going there, she was concerned by a "negative" connotation she says some parents have about the youth hang-out. But, Ragozzino said, she eventually realized it was a "good alternative" for "a child making alternative choices." She believes that her daughter's time at the Phoenix, under the guidance of Tom Gaffey, helped her through a difficult period and helped her become who she is today — a "fabulous" mother and nurse.
"She found her way," Ragozzino said.
Ragozzino will be offering counseling, self-esteem building, conflict resolution and more. Other offerings will include meditation, homework help, and, on the lighter side, a zombie discussion group.
Negrin, Ragozzino and Grieco will be joined by Gayle Madison, a retired pastor, and Leta Frolli of Petaluma People Services Center.
Phoenix Rising kicked off on March 14, and the women involved said they think the program is off to a good start. To learn more about the Phoenix, Teen Clinic and other programs, or to get involved, visit www.thephoenixtheater.com/programs or email Helen Grieco at helen@brave people.org.