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School cool to crisis center

April 04, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — After months of delay, the Rape Crisis Center of Central Mass. has formally started its teen center in Southbridge — despite getting stonewalled by the school district.

According to RCC teen counselor Natalie Higgins, one of two who will staff the Tuesday afternoon program in the Methodist Church on Main Street, the schools gave the agency "kind of a cold response" to its effort to put up flyers and do other outreach within the schools themselves.

"They haven't been welcoming us as much as other school systems," Higgins said, noting the Center has been working with Wachusett, Leominster, Narragansett and other districts for some time now. "They basically said they're not interested."

Although that might be true (Superintendent Dale Hanley could not be reached Friday for comment), School Committee Chairman John Jovan said he "would welcome dialogue with any group willing to help kids." He noted he had not even heard of the RCC or its effort and would talk to Hanley about it.

"As a parent certainly you worry about the relationships teenagers have, and in this generation there are a lot more challenges," Jovan said. " For me, personally, any outreach you can do to youth is valuable."

Although the agency's name — and main function in its Worcester office — implies counseling for rape victims, Higgins said the Southbridge effort isn't specifically geared to that. Instead, the goal is to provide a place teens can speak openly about relationship-related concerns — and anything else — and teach them, among other things, how to distinguish healthy from unhealthy relationship dynamics.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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