National Runaway Prevention Month Vigil

Supporters held a vigil Wednesday night to raise awareness for National Runaway Prevention Month

The community supported the Payne County Youth Service on Wednesday evening at its annual candlelight vigil, to raise awareness for National Runaway Prevention Month. This awareness campaign began 19-years ago, occurring each November.

Kim Shenold, the Intervention Specialist at PCYS, said throughout November, the Prevention Team gives out fliers and green lightbulbs to encourage the community to participate in its vigil.

The PCYS has participated in National Runaway Prevention Month for seven years, and this is the third year for the candlelight vigil.

She said raising awareness within the community is essential.

“National Runaway Prevention Month is important for the community to know about so they are aware of the struggles children face in our towns and cities every day,” she said. “When we allow society to turn a blind eye to the struggles these kids face, we perpetuate the systems and situations that lead them to such dire circumstances, to begin with.”

Shenold said 23% of Stillwater residents are at or below the poverty level. She said access to free healthcare, especially mental healthcare is essential for the community.

“Many youth experience homelessness after fleeing an unsafe situation at home,” she said. “Supporting local youth and family services and widespread access to mental healthcare are key factors in promoting safe and accepting homes for young people.”

Shenold said the community should support local, state, and federal leaders who can work toward legislation that helps youth and families live healthy and safe lives.

The community should know that homelessness exists right here in Payne County and in Stillwater. There are youth in our community who don’t know where they will sleep tonight,” she said. “In many ways, homelessness can be a hidden issue both because of stigma against those who are experiencing homelessness and because of a lack of insight and understanding of marginalized communities and trauma.”

Several factors contribute to homelessness in adults and youth, Shenold said.

“Homeless youth and children are often victims of trauma or poverty, they may have special needs that are not being met, or they may be members of the LGBTQ+ community who are not accepted in their own families,” she said.

Intervention needs to first focus on immediate safety and be culturally competent and accessible. She said the community “can choose to say this is not our responsibility or we can take action to support those agencies and individuals who strive to provide the care and protection our young people need.”

“The Payne County Youth Services provides counseling, an emergency youth shelter, transitional housing, aids in suicide prevention, provides life skills through prevention and intervention, and is a safe place for those in need.

“At Payne County Youth Services, our mission is to provide free quality services for the positive development and recovery of children, youth, and families,” Shenold said. “More than ever, with the challenges we have all faced in the last couple of years, this is a big task and, we cannot succeed without the help and support of the community.”

 Re. John Talley (R-Stillwater) gave the closing prayer and a speech on the need to help local homeless youth. 

“I know your heart breaks, even more than ours for kids who are misused and abused and homeless,” he prayed. “Please give us your sensitivity and your insight ... give us strength.”

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