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CHALAN PAGO, Guam — It can start the way so many things start in a teenager’s life. A friend tells a friend, who passes it on again, swearing that yes, it’s true.

The gossip is this: There’s a place in Guam where teens can go for counseling and help without needing parental consent.

For teens growing up on a military base, where similar services are available but Mom and Dad must know about the request for help, Sanctuary offers the freedom of anonymous help, according to the center’s director, Sarah Thomas-Nededog.

Sanctuary, a counseling center for teens and families, opened 35 years ago and in more recent years has seen up to 20 percent of its clients — teen and adult — come from military homes, Thomas-Nededog said. Teens who come often learn of the center from friends who also have sought help with dating, stress, anger and improving their lives at home, she said.

Thomas-Nededog said she’s not accusing the military of ignoring these issues or casting problems off to the local community.

In fact, Sanctuary has a memorandum of understanding with Andersen Air Force Base and twice in the past two years Air Force officials have used Sanctuary for short-term stays for two teens, according to Andersen’s public affairs office.

“We embrace them like any other family,” Thomas-Nededog said. “People choosing to seek help is good. People coming off-base to get help is good.”

But she does want to remind military officials that their families do turn to local groups for support — and more likely will do so as the number of uniformed servicemembers here goes from 6,500 to 14,500 in the next few years. Starting in 2008, some 8,000 U.S. Marines are expected to begin moving from Okinawa to Guam.

Most often a military family, like any other, is looking for help managing anger, convincing its teen to make smart decisions about dating and drugs and learning to get along better as a family, Thomas-Nededog said.

Occasionally, the problems are much worse. Sanctuary has the only short-term and long-term housing for teens in trouble — those addicted to alcohol and drugs, those who may be in danger at home and those who have no home.

A few times during Thomas-Nededog’s 27-year career with Sanctuary, she said, some of those homeless teens have been the children of military families who have moved from the island but left their daughter or son behind. Sanctuary steps in to provide longer-term food and shelter, transportation to and from school, and other support.

Usually, it’s a family in which a new step-parent and a teen are not getting along. The teen is on the verge of adulthood and the family has orders to move. “That’s when they leave the kid,” she said. “They just can’t handle it anymore.”

In June, Thomas-Nededog brought up the issue to a group of local leaders, community groups and U.S. Navy officials who have begun meeting regularly to talk about social concerns as the military plans to expand on the island.

Navy officials, including U.S. Naval Forces Marianas’ chief of staff, Capt. Janice Wynn, expressed shock at hearing about these cases.

“We don’t frequently know about the families because of your confidentiality agreement,” Marcy Baza, administrator for counseling services at the Fleet and Family Support Center for U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, told Thomas-Nededog at the meeting.

Wynn said she wanted to work with Sanctuary and other groups to find out more about these cases and whether the Navy could help. “Well, for starters, we might be able to get you some money,” Wynn told the Sanctuary director.

Money would help, Thomas-Nededog said. Sanctuary treats about 1,400 teens and parents each year with a $2.1 million budget and a staff of 37 workers and 20 volunteers.

But sharing information about Sanctuary’s clients is complicated. They are promised anonymity and a recent visit by a reporter to the group’s in-house facility required all the clients to be sequestered to their rooms.

“There’s no requirement to report them to the military, nor would that be appropriate,” Thomas-Nededog said.

The Navy and Stars and Stripes both have asked for statistics about how often the organization treats military families and how often military families abandon teens on Guam.

As of last week, that information had not been provided to Stripes.

Both Navy and Andersen family and health services offer many of the same programs as Sanctuary, military officials said. In many cases, the services are offered to adult servicemembers without any requirement to notify commanding officers, Baza said.

But they cannot offer short-term or long-term housing for teens in need. For a few teens, Sanctuary’s long-term housing may be their only choice.

“The majority that come in here are really homeless,” said George Salas, another administrator at Sanctuary. “It’s a good thing they are able to come our way. We want to help them.”

To get help

A variety of options are available for families, couples and teens on Guam who would like to seek counseling and other support services. Air Force and Navy officials offer many programs to help improve relationships and in many cases these services are available without notifying a servicemember’s chain of command. Teens who use the military’s help programs must receive permission from their parents before participation can begin. Sanctuary, an off-base facility, offers anonymity to anyone who asks for help. All of these services are free.

If you would like to find out more about the family and counseling services offered on Guam, contact any of the following:

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