Anderson, of Midtown, said she asked them why they needed them and they simply responded, “It’s not rocket science.”
Along with her husband Varlon, she was glad their children could talk to them but knew it was a problem. Her concern transformed to the inspiration from God, she said, to start the west Buckhead-based nonprofit Teens, What’s The Rush Inc. in January 2011.
“It’s totally led by God to get these teens and teach them the benefits of avoiding destructive decisions,” Anderson said.
As an artist and an actress, she said she finds visual and performing arts to be the best way to engage children and adolescents to help them open up to others about their problems. Anderson writes plays and film scripts in accordance with issues like sexual violence and pregnancy, she said.
“We teach life skills. We’re not just telling them what to do, but we show them all the reasons why to abstain [from sex],” she said. “We’re evoking change. The way we do that is giving them a different way of learning. They’re finding their real purpose, talents and skills.”
Anderson said several of the children who join the program are suicidal and/or have been raped or molested. “They come with those pains already. We are giving them a nonjudgmental environment,” she said.
Anderson shares her own story of child sexual abuse, which helps teens to talk about issues, whether it is in group sessions, forums or open conversations.
“We developed a curriculum based on life skills and a social surroundings approach,” she said.
After establishing the nonprofit, Anderson started Beyond the System, a Fulton County-administered juvenile justice program for youths of criminal backgrounds. She teaches three times a week at the Fulton County Juvenile Justice Center and the program is now mandatory for youth offenders.
Anderson said the organization also partners with local agencies throughout Atlanta, including Atlanta City Refuge and Bread Life Services, to offer free programs. Children come from all over metro Atlanta, she said, and all are welcome.
As for her sons, now 16 and 17, they are both mentors in the organization.
“They are still virgins,” she said. “They are still very open in talking about it with us.”
And group mentor Bethany Marisa said she wishes she had Teens, What’s the Rush when she was that age.
“I never really had anyone to talk to,” she said. “I was very pressured growing up.”
Marisa said she faced sexual peer pressure for years and was told it was not cool to be a virgin.
“It would have been nice to have someone to tell me, ‘Hey, it’s okay,’” she said. “We have teens and youth from all walks of life. With the youth in the organization, everyone has a story that can help someone. They can talk about their issues and feelings. It starts the healing process.”