CanTeen hosts 'HOSTS'

As summer winds down and the lazy, hazy days of August give way to crisper air and school shopping, the CanTeen has just the program to help kids ages 10 to 12 prepare for the upcoming year.

The teen center in Cicero will again be home to "Helping Other Students to Succeed," or HOSTS, a program in which older teens discuss important issues with preteens.

"The original idea was to do something that would get teens involved with younger kids," said Jenna Ogden, who, along with Toni Brauchle, runs the center. "It's evolved a lot since then."

Indeed, the program began as an activity-based initiative, focusing on things like Project Adventure and similar activities to encourage bonding between teens and preteens. But since it started in 2003, HOSTS has become more discussion-based. Older kids talk about issues like body image, relationships and school with younger kids during a four-day session, then complete the week with a trip to Oneida Shores.

This is the third year that the program has taken place during the summer. Ogden and Brauchle had initially tried it on Saturdays during the school year, first in the fall and then in the spring, but the turnout was less than they'd hoped for. That was resolved when they moved it to the end of the summer.

"Last year was our biggest year ever," Ogden said. "We had about 15 to 20 kids per session."

The program is designed to address the needs of kids entering middle school.

"Kids older than that are pretty heavily scheduled, and so are kids older than that," Ogden said. "There's a gap there. Kids in between really don't have an outlet. They're getting too old for parks and rec [summer programs], and they're too young for other things. There's nothing in between."

HOSTS provides that outlet, offering a chance for kids in that age group to gather with their peers as well as older kids to discuss issues that concern them.

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