Lisa Langer owns Pencil In The River Studio Inc, a digital imaging art studio in Tonowanda, NY. But Lisa does more than reproduce fine art and other digital imaging tasks; she also uses her talents to help out teens at risk. She has been volunteering with teens at risk, teaching them skills that bring career opportunities that may help keep them off the streets.

How did you start working with teens at risk?

My introduction to youth programs began in the mid 1970’s. I was working in Manhattan, Time Square managing a call room for the New York Times. We had a program to help runaways coming in to town from all over the country to procure work with us and get assistance from a not-for-profit organization. Most of the young girls were targeted as soon as they got into town by pimps for prostitution, for selling drugs… most were hooked on drugs within a short period of time. The program worked for some but not for everyone. The experience taught me that you can only give a young person an opportunity and assistance that they might not ordinarily have, but it is not a magic fix.

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Over the years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to set up a media program and teach youth at the Niagara Arts And Cultural Center in Niagara Falls, NY. One of the most difficult and rewarding experiences I had was volunteering with an Art Therapist in a hospital on the children’s and adolescent’s mental health floor every Monday for 1 year. Medical treatment was given to those in crisis. Part of that treatment was spending time with the Art Therapy professionals in programs. They were truly amazing, professional, and compassionate.

Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors for a community art center in my area. Through my business, I sponsor and promote arts programs and events.

What is the biggest misconception about youth?

That they are lazy, disconnected, and spoiled. Most people in my generation blame it on technology and parents who have lost control.

I think that young people live in a very different social environment than I did. I do not think they are that different. What my generation considers spoiled just might be about them having greater expectations and having more things to do and try. It is quickly approaching the time when communication technologies will be the norm everywhere on the globe for everyone. Who would have thought that 50 years ago? Interestingly enough, there is a shift from owning things to experiencing and sharing the experience with others. That does not sound spoiled at all.

As far as disconnection from others goes, the finger is pointed again at technology and the world wide web. Anyone can post up anything, regardless of truth or consequence. Computers can be very addicting and it is up to the parent to draw the line when it overwhelms the rest of life and be aware that a different addiction might arise.

Now as far as laziness goes, we are talking about the avoidance of hard physical work. I don’t recall too many kids running to help out with the dirty and tough jobs and I would not expect that to change. There are far more alternatives in life today in America that are easier on the body.

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How do you keep from losing hope or burning out?

I have burnt out and periodically step away. Even with strong support in place, it can become difficult when there are political, legal, and financial issue that complicate the basic paid and volunteer services that organizations try to provide. Couple that with work, family and other relationships, and it is easy to reach that burned out feeling. At that point, just one more thing that you might have had the ability to easily deal with becomes monumental. That’s how I know it is time to make a change.

No one can continue to give what they do not have even though others may expect it. The professionals who do this work with at risk teens go to other professionals such as therapists and psychologists for support. It still can take a toll.

Sometimes, for me, just getting back to a strong spiritual practice like meditation and adding in some fun to bring joy into the mix works. But when everything seems to be colliding even after trying to find balance, nothing short of retreat helps and I know someone else will take over. I have that option but for families and individuals dealing with these issues it is not so simple.

Can you describe the moment you really knew you made a difference for a teen?

Over the years I have had opportunities to reconnect with students long after they had left my media program. Sometimes, it has been just a smile and a nod from them in recognition that all is well. Other times, it has been an accidental meeting at an event where they are discussing something going on in their lives with ease and confidence. It really is the teen that allows the change for better and when they do so it is usually long lasting. No one can force change, even if it can improve life.


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