On Saturday, June 9, while many of this spring’s fresh crop of high school graduates and their families gear up for a day of graduation parties and open houses, Outreach, Inc. will hold its own celebration picnic to honor 12 homeless teenagers who have graduated from local high schools or obtained their GEDs in the last school year.

Outreach is an Indianapolis Christian ministry that serves homeless and at–risk youth in the metropolitan area with services and programs like Street Outreach, mentors, counseling, a youth drop-in center, social services and crisis intervention, with the goal of helping the youth to become “happy, productive members of society.”

The teens celebrated at this picnic were part of either the ministry’s G.O.A.L. program, which stands for the goals of graduation, occupation, address and lifestyle, and the satellite GED program. Outreach began the program in 2002 with funding from the McKinney-Vinto Law, which establishes educational rights for homeless youth.

According to Megan Foley, a social worker who helps supervise the program, “Many of the students [Outreach serves] drop out of school at 16 or 17 because they don’t have the necessary support to finish high school. Without a diploma these kids find it very hard to obtain jobs.”

With the continued help of a volunteer from Washington Township’s adult education program, Outreach has been able to meet the youth where they are and eliminate one of the barriers towards continuing their education.

Under the program, youth are supported by case managers Rob Pallikan and Amanda Woenkhaus, who do everything from help with paperwork and other logistical concerns to just going to movies or spending time with the kids.

Foley says of Pallikan and Woenkhaus, “I think the ongoing relationship they have with kids and getting to see their success is what they are most proud of.”

Foley said that what is most rewarding for her is to see the kids graduate and know that without some of the opportunities from this program they may not have been able to come that far.

But she added, “It doesn’t end there.”

She estimates that out of the over 130 kids who have graduated or received their GEDs from the program, about half have gone on to some sort of college or trade school.

The 12 students honored this year have graduated from Indianapolis Public Schools high schools, including four from Broad Ripple, five from Manual and one from the Pacers Academy; and two students have received their GEDs. A number of them are the first in their families to do this and some even said that they want to finish high school or possibly even go to college in order to honor their families.

“This year’s graduates have worked hard and we are happy to celebrate them,” Foley said.

The picnic will be held at the Garfield Park, Pagoda Shelter from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.