Everyday Hero: Volunteer offers open ears for teens wanting to talk
VIDALIA — When teens just need someone to listen, Dewayne Kenney makes sure he is there.
Kenney leads the Life Hurts, God Heals group Wednesdays at Vidalia First Baptist Church, where a group of 10 or so young men gather to tackle addiction, pain and other issues they’re dealing with in life.
“We’re there when they need to talk to somebody, whether they’re depressed or whether they have issues with drugs or suicidal tendencies, whether they’re angry and cannot talk to their parents,” Kenney said. “We have some kids that just need somebody to listen.”
Life Hurts, God Heals is a teenage version of the church’s Celebrate Recovery program. The teen program is offered to young men and women, but Kenney leads the group for young men.
The teens who participate in the group sign confidentiality contracts for the 16-week program, Kenney said. The confidentiality, he said, builds trust between the teens in the group.
“Anything they say inside that group stays inside that group. If it comes to the point where we think we need to discuss something with their parent or guardian, we discuss it with the child first,” Kenney said. “If it’s not OK with them and it’s not something where we think they’re going to hurt themselves and hurt someone else, then we don’t say anything.
“They have to be able to trust us.”
Kenney has worked in the mental health field for the past 20 years and is the director of business development for an Alexandria behavioral health hospital.
Kenney said he has a passion for working with teenagers, especially those in need of guidance and support.
“Kids are thrown away sometimes,” he said. “Parents don’t take the time to be parents. If we can keep one kid off the street, I feel like we’re doing a good job and accomplishing something.”
Kenney said he is proud of the teens in his group and the support they give each other.
“They’re good kids, they just need somebody to talk to sometimes,” he said.
Vidalia First Baptist youth pastor Dusty Carson was involved in the creation of the group for teens, and said Kenney is just what the group needs.
“Dewayne is an open book,” Carson said. “He’s open and honest with them and doesn’t hold any punches. He’s going to be brutally honest with them, and they like that and respond to it.”
Carson said Dewayne puts in extra time with the teens and shows that he cares about them. Carson recalls a teen who was depressed because he had just moved to the area and didn’t know anyone.
“It was his birthday, and Dewayne wanted to get him something, so we went and got him a little something for his birthday and brought it to him at school,” Carson said. “That’s the kind of person Dewayne is.
“He just goes the extra mile for people.”