Safe Place program reaches out to area youth

Horry County, SC - By Jennifer Grove - bio | email

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Council is declaring this week "Safe Place Week"  to go along with the national awareness initiative for a program that offers temporary safe havens for teens in need.

In a resolution passed by the council they wrote: "All young people deserve to feel safe and protected in their communities."

Safe Place Coordinator Melanie Holmes says there are now 46 Safe Place sites across the county.

At Chris' Pizza in Longs, they are serving up more than a good meal, they are also one of the businesses providing a safe place for teens in Horry County.

"They came to me and I said 'yeah'," Owner Chris Efaw said. "We're a family-run business so let's take care of who we can."

Chris' Pizza, like every other location, is chosen because it is a youth-friendly site and has been checkout out by the program.

"We go through an extensive check to make sure these sites are what they're supposed to be before we even put our sign up there," Holmes explained.

Efaw says even though he was quick to sign up for the program, he never expected anyone to actually walk through the doors. He says when a teen showed up though, they followed the steps and gave her something to drink and then made the call to Sea Haven. He says it was a lifeline for a girl looking to get away from domestic abuse.

Once the call is made, Holmes says they then go out to the safe place site to make contact with the teen.

"We'll meet the youth there and assess what's going on," Holmes said. "Then we give them all of the options. We never tell the kid what to do."

Holmes says teens are using the program to get help with a wide variety of needs.

"The smallest may have been food," Holmes said. "The biggest is that they were in a human trafficking situation and they we're ready to get out."

In addition to bowling alleys, restaurants and other businesses, many fire departments have also jumped on board. The program's coordinator says Horry County, North Myrtle Beach, and Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue have all become Safe Place sites with the stickers on display at their stations.

For North Myrtle Beach Fire Chief Tom Barstow, he did not have to think twice before taking part in the program.

"Most people know exactly where fire stations are in their neighborhood," Barstow explained. "Also when they arrive here, firefighters are people who protect people so they will keep them safe until a representative from Sea Haven arrives."

Because hunger, abuse, and neglect are not exclusive to more populated areas, Holmes says she is still looking for businesses who would like to become partners; safe places for teens in Horry County.

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