Bridges Outreach’s sixth annual Teens Tackle Homelessness Conference will be held Saturday, February 28 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at The Kent Place School in Summit.  This year’s theme is “Youth and Homelessness”; the conference is designed by and for high school students. 

The Keynote Speaker, Kevin Ryan, leads Covenant House International, one of the largest charities in the Americas devoted to serving homeless and trafficked children and youth.  Covenant House reaches more than 56,000 vulnerable young people annually in North and Central America annually.  Ryan’s international human rights work to prevent the murder and exploitation of street youth has been awarded the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award, the Olaf Palme Peace Prize, the United States Department of State Hero Citation and the Guatemala Hands of Peace Award.

In October 2012, Ryan and former New York Times reporter Tina Kelley published Almost Home, which became a national bestseller.  The book chronicles the extraordinary true journey of six homeless teenagers in the U.S. and Canada as they faced abuse, violence and heartbreak in search of a place to call home.

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During the 1990s, Ryan spent nearly a decade on the front lines of Covenant House’s work with homeless and trafficked children on the streets of New York and New Jersey, before becoming New Jersey’s first child advocate.  His investigative work uncovering inhumane conditions and overcrowding for children in the state’s juvenile detention centers and failures in the child welfare system roused national ire and led to sweeping reforms.  He has appeared as a guest on The Today Show, CNN, and Fox, and made two appearances on 60 Minutes.  His advocacy for the most vulnerable children in society has earned front page stories in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

The Teens Tackle Homelessness Conference was created to further educate Bridges’ teen volunteers and other interested high school students about the causes of and issues related to homelessness.   The conference will open with an address from Rachel, a young woman who experienced numerous addictions and traumas early in her life that led to a self-destructive path and eventually homelessness.  Both speakers will take audience questions.  Between speakers, there will be interactive sessions regarding homelessness designed by the teen steering committee.

Bridges’ Teens Tackle Homelessness Steering Committee, comprised of over 30 teens from more than 15 area high schools, is the driving force behind the conference.  The students developed and implemented the program specifically to educate their peers about homelessness.  In addition to their work on the conference, the teens go on Bridges Runs (outreach visits) and spend time with sheltered children.  Many of the teens take on leadership roles and help to further Bridges mission to “bring the housed and homeless together in community.” 

The event is open to all high school students, and free to those who pre-register.  The fee will be $10 at the door on the day of the conference.  For more information, or to register for the conference, visit Bridges’ website at www.bridgesoutreach.org.