Life-long best friends and St. Charles Parish residents Chyshena Coleman and Alicia Johnson both have backgrounds with troubled youth.
“On my side, I have two siblings who were troubled youth and were in and out of the system and always fighting,” Coleman said. “I saw it from a personal point of view. There were some programs that worked and others didn’t. Now I’m a nurse, so I can see the behavioral side.”
Johnson – who has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development, Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and is in the National Society of Leadership and Success – serves as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and student advocate.
“On her side, she was always working in the system,” Coleman said of her friend.
Their unique experiences on the same matter led them to organize Saving Children at Risk Services, or S.C.A.R.S, in 2018.
“Our core business at S.C.A.R.S is to help support, guide and nurture youths to become successful young people,” Johnson said of the nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. “S.C.A.R.S is determined to make positive social changes in the young people of St. Charles Parish.”
Currently the duo is organizing holiday outreaches – including Thanksgiving food drives and Christmas toy giveaways – and other community events aimed at giving back to the community. Their goal is to eventually open a therapeutic group home for at-risk youth.
“We started out doing everything with our own money,” Johnson said. “Then we started fundraising.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the pace of their fundraising, the two are determined to open a safe environment for at-risk youth who are struggling with issues such as substance abuse, neglect, school problems, homelessness and other scenarios in which care and support are needed to help them stay on track.
Johnson said her goal is to reach young people through the education of life skills and also provide a home-like environment where young people would become more responsible, productive citizens and enthusiastic life-long learners.
“There are temporary places available, but the negative behavior is still occurring,” she said. “In order to help them with that behavior, the group home would offer them a place to learn different life skills like anger management, setting and reaching goals, financial literacy and other things. I am committed to guiding, supporting, nurturing and teaching youth to make better life decisions and hopefully to prevent them from going into the prison pipeline.”
Coleman said meetings with 29th Judicial District Court Judges Lauren Lemmon and Timothy Marcel about the need for such a facility went well.
“They both believed there is a need in a community,” she said. “One of my brothers went through group homes from 12 – 16 years old. It was a challenge because he was acting out at school because he was bored. Once he got that individualized attention, he graduated high school at 16. It just takes one person to sit down and look at what that child needs.”
Coleman said she hopes the S.C.A.R.S center will provide enough evaluation so that the young people it serves will be able to have their individual needs met.
“You have to be holistic and look at the whole child,” she said. “Not just look at the problem.”
For more information on S.C.A.R.S. or to donate, visit savingchildrenatriskservices.org.