At only 23, Teka Downer is taking action to ensure Columbia County's young people lead successful and productive lives.
Downer is a youth facilitator and abstinence education coordinator with Family Connection of Columbia County. The group was created in 2003 to build partnerships and find resources for children and families.
"Just being able to plant a seed in young people," Downer said, is a joy she gets from her job of more than two years.
Downer was Family Connection's first employee, joining executive director Julie Miller in September 2004 with abstinence education and Life Skills training in county high schools and middle schools.
"First it was me and Julie working out of our cars and homes," Downer said, adding they are now in a small Harlem office and construction is to begin in the spring on a new, larger building. "...When it took off, it took off and we have not slowed down yet."
Downer oversees and teaches abstinence education in ninth-grade health classes in all four county high schools. She also has established a youth council, which disseminates abstinence, tobacco and other educational information, and a Young Women of Excellence club at Harlem High.
In addition, Downer is in charge of prom season information sessions regarding sex, alcohol and drugs.
"Being a mentor, you are just basically going over to the school, talking with the young ladies, letting them talk to you, basically letting them vent, talk about their frustrations," Downer said. "A lot of times they can't tell a teacher. They can't tell a parent.''
Downer said she wants all Columbia County students to feel guided and supported.
"She's had a tremendous impact on a lot of young people," Miller said of Downer.
Downer said she believes her words are better received among students because of her young age.
"Right now I do have that relativity," Downer said. "I can relate to them.''
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