Though seen as an ever-changing face, the issues of alcohol, drugs and promiscuity have been an issue facing most passing through their teenage years.
To help combat these challenges, Gretna Public Schools has partnered with local community groups, the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office and parents to create what the district calls a Parent Forum, an opportunity to exchange information and be on the forefront of protecting today's youth.
“Primarily, this is to keep parents informed of what's out there,” Superintendent Kevin Riley said.
Riley said the school district has combined with the Citizen's Committee — which meets monthly in the Gretna Public Schools Administrative Offices — for roughly 30 years to provide parents with the latest information on the challenges teens face.
He said activities and events such as the Parent Forum, held Nov. 12, are crucial for keeping Gretna the safe community it is, situated between the two major cities in Nebraska — Omaha to the east and Lincoln to the west.
“Whatever goes on there eventually reaches us here,” Riley said.
Each year the forum includes booths from various youth-related organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Heartland Family Services and Project Extra Mile. After a brief time, parents and children can attend a panel.
This year's panel included Dave Hayes of Dillion's House, Lyn Kocian of Gretna Family Health, Sarpy County Attorney's Office's Stephanie Hanson, Nikki Carritt of Project Extra Mile, Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis and FBI Special Agent Anna Brewer. Topics included prescription drug overdose, normal and abnormal behaviors of teenagers, the dangers of social media and technology and alcohol use. New this year, however, was the discussion of prostitution and human trafficking.
Riley said he was especially interested in human trafficking, as a recent case showed two Papillion-area girls were forced into prostitution.
“That happened just a few miles from here,” he said.
Brewer spoke of the nearby case, which was her first operation in the Omaha FBI branch.
“This problem exists here,” she said during the panel.
Brewer said it was on Jan. 21, 2010, when she first asked if she could lead an undercover operation to investigate child prostitution. Using the Internet, she tracked down a pimp in nearby Council Bluffs.
“For $150, she'd do almost anything the client wanted,” Brewer said. “Fortunately, the client was an undercover agent.”
She said she later found out the girls were recruited at a high school football game.
“In my first case here, I was able to bring the story home,” she said.
Brewer told the Breeze there is a fallacy in assuming human trafficking only takes place in large cities and not nearby suburbs, but not wanting families to live in fear, she said she encourages parents to speak with the children of the dangers.
“Communication between parents and children is so key,” she said.
Should someone suspect a case of human trafficking, Brewer said do not hesitate to call either the local authorities or contact the Omaha FBI at 402-493-8688.
“Don't be afraid to call the FBI. We are here for you,” she said.
The sentiment of communication was echoed by the whole panel. Speaking as a parent, Davis said the forums are a great tool to create lines of communication with teens.
“The parents go home and talk to their kids,” he said.
Davis said he credits Riley and GPS for always leading the way in empowering parents.
“We learned a long time ago, no one can do this on their own,” he said, adding it's a two-way street as the sheriff's office often learns things from the parents as well.
Parents are also appreciative of the school district's efforts.
“I am very thankful for the administration that makes this available,” Mary Roberts said.
Roberts and her husband Mark have nine children, ages 6 to 25. She said the Parent Forum is a rare gift found in Gretna, and a benefit to the community.
“It's nice to have a partner,” Mark Roberts said. “It is our main responsibility as parents, but Dr. Riley does an amazing job coming beside us.”
Riley said the schools are happy to be able to provide an exchange of information, especially into the hands of parents, which is the whole point of the forum.
“In a child's life, no one is more powerful than a parent, nobody.” he said.