Shelter, counseling available from Safe Place program

By Elsa Baughman
(Editor’s note: As part of observing Child Abuse Prevention Month, Mississippi Catholic will feature efforts to combat child abuse throughout the month of April.)
In the 2014-2015 year, 26 runaway homeless youth from eight counties in Mississippi stayed at Sally Kate Winters shelter in West Point for a total of 258 nights.041516safe-place
Sally Kate Winters Family Services has 36 Safe Place locations in six counties. All fire stations in Columbus, Starkville and West Point participate in the Safe Place program. In Mississippi there are 103 Safe Place locations, each displaying the yellow and black Safe Place sign, the symbol of help and safety for youth between 12 and 17 years old.
Safe Places are youth-friendly businesses, schools, fire stations, libraries, fast food restaurants, convenience stores, YMCAs and other appropriate buildings which connect youth in crisis with the local licensed Safe Place agency.

Jacklyn Weir, a resource coordinator at West Point Sally Kate Winters Family Services, believes that the Safe Place Program is successful because of the commitment that the community has for the safety of the youth. “It takes all of us to make sure that youth are safe,” she said, adding that the first 72 hours are critical. “If we can get them to safety, then that will be one less statistic.”
Weir noted that youth run away for many reasons.  “One thing that I would stress as a professional as well as a parent is to listen attentively to what our youth are saying to us,” she said.
She pointed out that most young people hear about Safe Place during school presentations and information booths where they receive an information card that has the local Safe Place phone number and explains that the help is free and confidential. Teens also hear about the program through word of mouth, social media and public service announcements on radio or TV.
Safe Places works as follows:
A young person who enters a Safe Place location and asks for help is offered a comfortable place to wait while the employee calls the local Safe Place licensed agency. Within 30 minutes, a Safe Place representative will arrive to talk with the youth and, if necessary, provide transportation to the shelter for counseling, support, a place to stay or other resources.
Once at the Safe Place agency, counselors meet with the youth to determine the best way to work through the problem. The counselor will contact the youth’s family to confirm the youth’s safety. Family agency staff makes sure the youth and their families receive the help and professional services they need.
The agency also runs TXT 4 HELP, a 24-hour, text-for-support service which provides access immediate help and safety for teens. Youth can text the word “SAFE” and their current location (address/city/state) to 69866 and receive a message with the name and address of the closest Safe Place location, as well as the number for the local youth shelter agency.
Users also have the option to text interactively with a mental health professional. The service is free, but regular text messaging rates will apply to the user’s phone bill.
The following agencies are licensed to operate the Safe Place program in Mississippi:
• Sally Kate Winters Family Services in West Point,  (serves Caledonia, Columbus, Macon, New Hope, Starkville, West Point),
• South Mississippi Children’s Center in Hattiesburg,   (serves Collins, Ellisville, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Petal, Purvis, Wiggins),
• Warren County Children’s Shelter in Vicksburg (serves  Port Gibson, Vicksburg, Yazoo City),
There are some cities and regions without Safe Places. If a teen uses the TXT 4 HELP service and there is not a close Safe Place, they’ll be referred to the closest youth shelter. If there is not a shelter in the city, they will be referred to the National Runaway Safeline.
For more information contact the National Safe Place, 888-290-7233, (during business hours) or email

‘Las Posadas’ tradition gains popularity in Mississippi

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – The Posadas is a very old Catholic tradition that, according to historians, started in Spain and was brought to America when the Spaniards first came to the new continent. By the sixteenth century the missionaries had started celebrating this ritual in México with the intention of catechizing the native Aztecs by representing the story of the birth of our Lord.
The Spanish word “posada” means shelter. Jesuit Father Eduardo Pinzón Umaña recounts in his book, “In the Name of God we Seek Shelter,” that in the month of

JACKSON – Dilan Sánchez and Jordaine Piernas played the part of Joseph and Mary during the representation of las Posadas last year at the Christmas Eve children’s Mass at St. Therese Parish. (File photo by Elsa Baughman)

JACKSON – Dilan Sánchez and Jordaine Piernas played the part of Joseph and Mary during the representation of las Posadas last year at the Christmas Eve children’s Mass at St. Therese Parish. (File photo by Elsa Baughman)

December, during the nine days of the bloody feasts of the Aztecs, the Spanish missionaries introduced the novena of Christmas they called Posadas. Throughout the years this tradition became “ … nine nights in which the community of faith walked in procession from house to house in the neighborhood asking for posada for the child who was to be born.”
According to Father Pinzón Umaña, with time the participation of the indigenous people in this representation began to grow and little by little they were willing to approach Christianity.
Presently, the celebration of las Posadas begins on Dec. 16 and continues through Christmas Eve. The tradition recounts the story of Joseph and Mary searching for shelter. The group of participants outside sing the part of Joseph, “In God’s name, we seek shelter” explaining their situation and asking for a place to stay. The people inside sing back saying they have no room. They continue the journey going to other doors until one of the homes invites them inside.
Usually the Posadas are held at different homes in which adults, youth and children take part in the celebration. Families prepare their home to receive the guests who will participate in the reenactment of the story. The participants gather in two groups, one travels with the Holy Couple as they go door to door outside of the house seeking hospitality while the other group remains inside the home.
The way it’s celebrated in the United States varies from city to city and in some parishes is usually held only one night as a way to gather the community to experience the joy in giving hospitality, to better understand what Joseph and Mary went through, and to give people an awareness of the gifts Hispanics bring with them as well as the difficult trials they face when they migrate to other lands.
The celebration might include readings, reflections, prayers and songs and usually ends with a piñata for the children who also receive a small bag with cookies, candy or fruits.
In the Diocese of Jackson this celebration has grown in popularity in parishes which have Hispanic parishioners. In Jackson, the Hispanic communities of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle has been holding Posadas for several years and lately other parishes have celebrated it including Batesville St. Mary, Booneville St. Francis, Corinth St. James, Jackson St. Therese, and Southaven Christ the King.
Another Hispanic Christmas tradition is the Novena of Aguinaldos which is considered an equivalent to the Posadas.
The celebration, also known as the novena, is a set of prayers recited during the nine days before Christmas to honor the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Wise Men, and baby Jesus. This is a custom of Catholics in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador where families and friends gather to pray, eat, and sing villancicos together.
The prayers may be recited individually or together as a group. Often a book with all the novena prayers is passed around and read. There are prayers for specific nights as well as a set of prayers that are read each night.
Just as the pilgrims went to a different place each night seeking shelter, a different member of the group may host the novena each night.