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Runaways find a Safe Place

"I'm running away!"

Nearly every little kid utters those words at some point, hoping their parents will change their minds and not punish them for something they did. But what happens when it's not a little kid saying that? What happens when it's a teenager -- and running away is their only option?

More than 300 youths sought help from Compass House, a shelter for runaways in Buffalo, during 2005. The 13-bed shelter has a mission to provide a place for young men and women between 12 and 20 who would otherwise end up on the street; the average length of stay is 10 days, and 94 percent of those who come to Compass House successfully enter secure living arrangements. Compass House also provides a resource center where teenagers are able to get help as well. The shelter's services are free, and the volunteers work with those at the shelter, helping them either to return home or to become independent and productive in society.

On Tuesday, Compass House began its newest program, Project Safe Place, in conjunction with Tops and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. Although the emergency shelter and resource center are always available, many runaway teenagers may not know where to go, how to get to the shelter, or even where it is. Project Safe Place helps solve these problems, working with the idea that runaways will choose to go somewhere that is familiar to get help.

Project Safe Place consists of a network of all 30 Tops Markets, Martin Super Foods Stores, NFTA buses, and all other organizations that post a yellow safe place sign. Entering any of these places, a runaway can simply request a Safe Place, and the site will link him or her to Compass House, providing safe transportation to the shelter where he or she can stay. The Compass House staff will help at the shelter, and trained volunteers will provide transportation from the Safe Place to the shelter. Services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

More information about Project Safe Place is available at www.safeplaceservices.com, and Compass House information can be found at www.compasshouse.com. Project Safe Place is also looking for volunteer drivers to help with Project Safe Place. You must be at least 21 years old, have a New York State Driver's License and vehicle insurance, and be sincerely interested in helping youths in crisis; contact Joan Freidson at 886-1351 for more information.

Angela Stefano is a senior at Nardin.

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