Amanda Snyder, 18, right, Jesse Kurz, 12, center, and Bailey Kurz, 12, work on signs Tuesday at the Moffat County Courthouse to be hung around town for National Runaway Prevention Month. Synder is a member of the Moffat County Youth Leadership Team, which seeks to raise awareness about local homelessness and address the issues through local resources and lobbying state officials.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Amanda Snyder, 18, right, Jesse Kurz, 12, center, and Bailey Kurz, 12, work on signs Tuesday at the Moffat County Courthouse to be hung around town for National Runaway Prevention Month. Synder is a member of the Moffat County Youth Leadership Team, which seeks to raise awareness about local homelessness and address the issues through local resources and lobbying state officials.

Teens, organizations gear up for homeless prevention month

If you go

What: National Runaway Prevention Month kick-off

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Monday

Where: Moffat County Courthouse, 221 W. Victory Way

• Organizers also are planning a creative art project contest. Entry applications must be submitted by Monday to Moffat County Youth Services Department officials. For more information and a copy of the application, call Paula Reed at 824-9105.

— Justin Zufelt, 18, moved to Craig a little less than two months ago from Arizona, where he was staying with his grandfather and grandmother.

He didn't come with family. He said he came to find a new home.

"It wasn't the kind of place I wanted to be in," Zufelt said about his former Arizona residence. "They were always telling me I was doing things wrong, that I wasn't going to amount to anything."

In his determination, Zufelt turned to his family here, a great-uncle and great-aunt who were willing to take him in while he finished high school.

Zufelt's story is not unique, Moffat County officials said, and some youths don't have extended family they feel comfortable turning to in times of need.

They hope to raise awareness and support for youth homelessness and runaways throughout November, which the Moffat County Commission recently proclaimed National Runaway Prevention Month.

Gov. Bill Ritter and the U.S. Congress have made similar proclamations in recent weeks.

The Moffat County Youth Services Department, Youth Leadership Team and local Rural Collaborative for Runaway and Homeless Youth Advisory Committee have worked together to plan a series of events for local residents.

Everything kicks off from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Moffat County Courthouse, 221 W. Victory Way. Local youths plan to share their personal experiences, and homeless advocates and other county officials will discuss issues surrounding youth homelessness in the community.

Organizers also will pass out free green light bulbs, which residents and businesses can put in their porch lights and storefronts to show their support and raise awareness.

Monday also is the deadline for applications for the Creative Art Project contest, where young adults ages 12 to 24 can submit any original work they want that addresses the theme of "Answering the Call."

Prizes will be awarded at a final judging at 2 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Community Budget Center, 555 Yampa Ave. Awards include $200 in Craig Chamber of Commerce spree bucks and an mp3 player.

Organizers said there would be enough prizes for every entry to take home something.

The Youth Leadership Team, which is entirely made up of local teens, plans to do a stage show from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 7, 14 and 21 at the Community Budget Center, 555 Yampa Ave.

Paula Reed, who is the leadership team's coordinator, said the play will be about 15 minutes long and run throughout the time allotted. It will focus on two teens, one who ran away from his or her home and wants to sleep on the other's couch.

"The runaway problem is real," Reed said. "Most of our kids who are runaways end up couch surfing. The kids are going to actually portray what it's like for some of them who have done that in the past."

The play's theme is an extension of the state slogan "A couch is not a home," which Moffat County teenagers and officials created.

Those participating in the art project should submit their entries - from paintings and photos to poems, videos or murals - to Reed by Nov. 21.

Organizers plan to showcase the various submissions throughout November at local businesses.

Each entry will be accompanied by a donation jar, and the one that garners the most donations will be given the people's choice award and earn the grand prize of $200 in spree bucks.

Although the leadership team's performance will not be up for an award, Zufelt, who has been a member for most of his time in Craig, said he joined to make a difference.

"I guess I just saw it as my way to help my community," he said.

Zufelt also is considering volunteering for a statewide leadership team that will testify to the state Legislature about issues surrounding homeless youths and runaways.

"I was thinking about it," he said. "We could get some laws changed around here that would help people."

Zufelt will graduate from high school next summer, and despite the challenges he has faced, he has a plan for his future.

"I'm going to volunteer for the Marines, be a diesel mechanic," he said. "I'll make a career out of it."

He added he's not worried about fighting overseas.

"Just all the stuff I've had in my life, I've had so many near-death experiences, it doesn't scare me," Zufelt said.

For more information on events and the art project, call Reed and the Youth Services Department at 824-9105.

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