Approximately 1.5 million US youth run away or are sent away from home yearly; 68 percent are between the ages of 15 and 17; 35 percent have run away before, according to the web site www2.lv.psu.edu/runawaylives.
Each year about 5,000 runaways and homeless youth die from illness, suicide, and assault. And as the web site emphasized, behind these statistics are stories waiting to be told by lives altered by runaway experiences.
As I read through some of these real stories by real people that were told on this web site, it was revealed that there are a variety of reasons why people, in most cases, teens, run away.
Some felt that they just weren’t being heard and did not feel connected at home; others had very difficult experiences at home and felt they had no other place to go; some conveyed that they were defiant and wanted to experience life on their own without the rules.
In most of the stories, the individual admitted that running away was not the right answer to their issues and situations; although there were a few that revealed that they would do it again because they felt it was their only alternative given their situations.
Last spring, my children, mother and I were eating at a neighboring Dairy Queen. I noticed that when we entered, there was a teenage girl with a duffel bag by her feet just standing there seemingly to be waiting for something or someone.
She continued to stand there regularly looking out the window with a nervous expression on her face. She was not eating anything, nor did she order any food.
After our family had sat down for a short while, she approached me and asked for the time. I was concerned for the girl. I knew something was awry. I struck up a conversation with her.
In her story, she told me that she was from the metro suburbs and had come out here for the day with her boyfriend to visit some friends, and she was waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up.
Further in the conversation she said that her boyfriend had gone back to the cities because he had to work. Obviously, there were inconsistencies in her story. It was a school day and night, so why would she be out here visiting with friends? Why had her boyfriend just left her without picking her up?
I asked her about school, and she conveyed that she was in an alternative school. I further suggested that she call her parents for a ride, and told her she could use my cell phone to do that.
Her mother was working, and her dad lived in a different state and was not in her life is what she said.
I also suggested that she call the police department, knowing with great certainty that that was certainly not an option she would choose.
She said that she couldn’t do that. In fact, I believe her constant viewing outside was to check for the presence of any police officers. I later came to discover that hunch was correct.
She then asked me where I lived. She suggested that she could be dropped off as far as I was going, and then she would find a ride from that point.
Of course, I did not tell her where I lived other than saying west. I knew she needed some type of help or intervention, but giving her a ride certainly wasn’t the answer.
As our family was ready to depart, I bid her good-bye. On the ride home, the girl and her story, or the fabrication of it, at least parts of it, flooded my mind.
As my mother and I talked, my wise, 85-year-old mother said that she believed that she most likely was running away and that, too, was my belief.
After some calling and with the help of my husband, who is in the law enforcement profession, I did find out that she indeed was a runaway from a group home in the community.
Her home residence, though, was in a Twin Cities suburb. She most likely was trying to run back to the Twin Cities, likely though, not back to her home.
She was arrested that evening for disorderly conduct fighting with some other teenagers on the street nearby, and brought back to the group home.
I have not forgotten her. I do not know her true story. There were obviously reasons why she was in a group home and why she was on the run.
I do know that she seemed to be a bright girl, who was cordial to me, but was lost in many respects. My hope is that with the necessary help, she is finding her way down a positive path for her life.
I also know that everyone, no matter what age, needs to feel wanted, needed, and loved, and that everyone needs to feel that they have a purpose. Sometimes we just need help in finding our way, just as I believe this teenage girl needed.
I will most likely never see that girl again, but I will see many others, including my own children, who I can help guide along their way.
There are Big Brother and Big Sister programs in each county; there are mentorship programs available in our communities, schools and counties.
Whether it is our own children, a neighbor, or a child that we’ve never met, but that we could make a difference for in a mentorship program, we can help kids be connected so they have positive personal stories to tell.