Bishop Dr. Reginald Saffo, the head of PTMAN, during a community event several years ago. Recently, the group has offered to open its doors to young people over the summer. | File

The ministers in Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network are responding to what may legitimately be called a mental health crisis among our youth by establishing what they’re calling Safe Spots for young people this summer at several church throughout Proviso Township.

Bishop Bill Teague, the pastor of Hope Tabernacle, 7416 Dixon St. in Forest Park, said his church will be open to area youth every Tuesday beginning June 4, from 6 p.m. until 8 pm.

Bishop Dr. Reginald Saffo, the chairman of PTMAN, said that he was inspired to launch the project “in response to the recent suicides of those young people in our community. Those incidents shook the community on many levels.”

Since last November, three Proviso East High School 15-year-olds, and at least one adult male — all from Maywood — have died by suicide. All of the teen suicides happened during holiday seasons and/or school breaks, Saffo observed.

“We concluded that perhaps when school is in session, the students have a respite from issues at home,” he said. “However, when school is out, many don’t have a place to go where they can get away from those challenges at home.”

According to the American Psychological Association, in addition to stress at home, young people between 15 and 21 years old are stressed out by news of mass shootings, sexual assault and the separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families.

“America’s youngest generation is also significantly more likely (27 percent) than other generations, including Millennials (15 percent) and Gen Xers (13 percent), to report their mental health as fair or poor,” the APA explained in a 2018 report. “They are also more likely (37 percent), along with Millennials (35 percent), to report they have received treatment or therapy from a mental health professional, compared with 26 percent of Gen Xers, 22 percent of baby boomers and 15 percent of older adults.”

Arthur C. Evans Jr., the APA’s CEO, said that current events “are clearly stressful for everyone in the country, but young people are really feeling the impact of issues in the news, particularly those issues that may feel beyond their control.”

Saffo said that the pastors in PTMAN will offer their sanctuaries as Safe Spots, or places where young people between the ages of 13 and 18 can “come and exhale,” adding that “perhaps the time they spend at a Safe Spot would be sufficient enough for them to re-calibrate their emotions. There will be no condemnation and no prying into their business. We will be an ear, if requested. Furthermore, we will not be performing counseling sessions.”

The PTMAN flyer announcing the availability of the ministry states that the mission of Safe Spots is “to provide a place for our youth to go when they’re in need of consolation and comfort during the summer.”

Rev. Persia Allen explained that many churches throughout Proviso Township will open their doors to “provide consolation services and resource information.” 

He added that Urban First Responders, an initiative that PTMAN offers to mitigate conflict and prevent violence, will be available between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.  The participating churches include:

  • United Faith MB Church
    • 40 S 19th Ave., Maywood | Tuesdays | (708) 338-1150
  • World Deliverance Church
    • 439 Bohland Ave., Bellwood | Tuesdays | (708) 398-3211
  • Hope Tabernacle
    • 7416 Dixon St., Forest Park | Tuesdays | (708) 488-7370
  • Greater Hope Church
    • 1427 S. 18th Ave., Maywood | Wednesdays | (773) 507-8842
  • Neighborhood United Methodist Church
    • 1817 Washington Blvd., Maywood | Wednesdays | (312) 203-0254
  • Proviso Baptist Church
    • 1116 S. 5th Ave., Maywood | Thursdays | (773) 331-5998
  • Christian Unity Church
    • 2140 Washington Blvd., Bellwood | Thursdays | (708) 715-6254

In addition to Safe Spots, PTMAN has also instituted a Summer Youth Program in which young people can intern in local businesses for four weeks. Rev. Albert Johnson, who coordinates the program, said that 20 students are enrolled so far and that 30 area business are partnering with PTMAN, including Forest Park National Bank and Belmont Village in Oak Park.

“We are anticipating another awesome, safe and productive summer for our youth,” Johnson said.