Every October for the past five years Pierce County Schools, The Southeast Health District, and Pierce County Family Connection have held Teen Maze, an orchestrated production of the outcomes of making both good and bad decisions in various scenarios. Teens see first hand how their decisions affect their future.
The program is organized and presented with the help of nearly 100 volunteers. Unfortunately, with safety being the number one priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, Teen Maze was sidelined until we can safely bring in the amount of visitors that are necessary for a successful event at the middle school.
This year we had planned on Teen Maze being bigger than ever after hearing of Jeff Davis County’s huge turnout for community night, the door prizes, the cash donations, and the food and fun offered. We really wanted to see what Pierce County could do – a bit of neighborly rivalry for the good of all the youth involved.
Teen Maze opens with a party scene as underage kids act out what a party might look like when an abundance of wrong choices set some tragic events into motion. Police arrive, arrests are made, an accident happens, teens die. Fire, ambulance and Air Evac. personnel are all on scene. Then the eighth graders are ushered inside to witness a court scene. It’s dramatic and heart-breaking, and the kids are often brought to tears as actors portraying the mothers are forced to say goodbye to their children – either in a body bag or as they head off to a long prison sentence.
The judge and attorneys are real life professionals, doling out what a legitimate sentence could be. This whole event relies on the expertise of professionals to create a realistic environment. We want our students to learn the facts from people who experience these situations every day. Our volunteers are nursing students, nurses, law enforcement officers, EMT’s, juvenile justice workers, lawyers, pilots, mental health providers, patient advocates, substance abuse counselors, death and bereavement care providers, Department of Public Health, educators, concerned citizens ... the list goes on.
Without the help of all of these people we would not be able to put on Teen Maze. But, we really need to drum up more community interest in the program – We need community support to show the students this is important to everyone. In the past, our community nights were so poorly attended we stopped having them, but parents who attended Teen Maze during the school day with their students always gave the program wildly positive reviews. They also learned about things they had no idea were possibly affecting their kids and how to help prevent them from happening.
Nearly a dozen interactive stations are set up, usually in the gym, featuring topics such as the dangers of social media and human trafficking, youth leadership and how to become a positive role model.
Teen Maze ends with a mock graduation ceremony. The actors have made it through their critical high school years, but unfortunately some did not. One of our most tragic closing speakers retells the real life story of her son dying the night before graduation from alcohol poisoning. He had been at a graduation party, with alcohol provided by parents at a beach house. They wanted the students to have a safe place to party, and thought providing a place and the booze themselves was a responsible thing to do. You might think this scenario sounds unbelievable, but it happens every prom, every homecoming, every graduation.
One choice can change a life forever. One choice can make a life or break it. That’s why we have Teen Maze.
If we cause just one student to think twice before drinking and driving, before using illegal drugs, before meeting up with someone they meet on the internet, then we’ve succeeded.
Join us. The next time you hear of Teen Maze coming to Pierce County, make an effort to attend Community Night, donate a gift card or a prize of some kind. Come grill hot dogs, or just donate your time as a supportive adult. We need you, the students need you, and the volunteers want to see that you care as much about these kids as we do! Trust me, being a positive role model to our youth is a choice you will never regret making.
• Stephanie Bell is Executive Director of Pierce County Family Connection.