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A group of SOS actors perform one of the company's 60 sketches dealing with teen issues. From left are Christian Savakes, Katie Law-Gotich of Hudson, Lucy Magyk, Kayla Hanke of Hudson, standing, Paige Beto and Marly Prom. Submitted photo
A group of SOS actors perform one of the company's 60 sketches dealing with teen issues. From left are Christian Savakes, Katie Law-Gotich of Hudson, Lucy Magyk, Kayla Hanke of Hudson, standing, Paige Beto and Marly Prom. Submitted photo

SOS for Youth faces troubles of its own

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arts and entertainment River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The name SOS for Youth is ironic given the financial crisis the teen acting company is facing.

In a March 6 letter to supporters, SOS Executive Director Sue Oberg said the company needed to raise $36,000 by April 1 or it would be forced to suspend its shows and disband its cast of young people.

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Reached by phone on Monday, Oberg said the picture has improved, but SOS remains in need of financial support.

She said the company has raised enough money to continue operations through the end of April, and possibly into May. SOS also expects to receive some grant funding in June. In addition, Oberg was scheduled to talk to a few groups of potential funders this week.

SOS is the organization started 23 years ago by the late June Erdman to address issues that confront many teens -- things like depression, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, sexual abuse, bullying, violence and racism.

The company has about 60 sketches written by teens and performed to student and other audiences by a traveling company of 60 teenage actors. Small groups of actors travel to schools around the region performing what used to be about 100 shows a year.

Part of the reason for SOS for Youth's financial problems is that school budgets have been cut, leaving little money for programs like it has to offer. This school year, the company will perform about 60 shows.

Also, foundation money has been in shorter supply because of the recession the country is just beginning to come out of.

Oberg said the message SOS brings remains as relevant as ever.

"If I thought SOS maybe had run its course, I might be willing to let it go," she said. "But I have never, ever seen a year like this year -- when it was needed more."

She related how in a visit to a Wisconsin school earlier in the year, the teen actors were able to get help for four teens who had been thinking about suicide, and two who were victims of sexual abuse.

The SOS actors perform for an hour, and then talk with their audience for 30 minutes. They are trained in how to handle situations in which students tell them about a serious problem. It includes telling a member of the host school counseling staff about the problem.

"The kids do an amazing job. It is teen-based, and that's why the kids reach out," Oberg said. "They trust the kids."

She said SOS for Youth's 14-member board and the staff remain determined to keep the company operating.

"We're going to fight. That's our plan," she said. "We're pulling out every stop -- everything we know how to do to keep this company alive."

Lydia Newlin of Houlton is a co-chair of the board. She's a victim assistance program director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Kurt Schmid of Wayzata, Minn., a partner in Deloitte Consulting, is the other co-chair.

Deborah Malmberg-Smith of First American Bank in Hudson is the board treasurer. Elementary teacher Clara Ashwood of Hudson is the treasurer. Other board members from Hudson are St. Croix County Court Commissioner Timothy Heckmann and building contractor Kevin Peterson.

The troupe has four actors from Hudson -- A.J. Barthman, Eli Wood, Rebecca Jensen and Katie Law-Gotich.

The actors sign a pledge to abstain from tobacco, alcohol and drug use, to maintain or improve their grades, to honor family and social obligations, and to refrain from bullying.

There are after-school rehearsals four nights a week, and for four hours on Saturdays. The actors don't attend them all, but as many as they can.

"They deserve a lot of credit," Oberg said. "The youth are all volunteers, and they spend a lot of time at it. They are learning about personal responsibility and giving back to their communities which teaches them purpose as well."

SOS continues to maintain a studio on O'Neil Road in St. Croix Business Park, which it rents on a month-to-month basis. It also has a studio in the Landmark Center in St. Paul.

Anyone wishing to make a tax-deductible donation to the company should write a check to SOS for Youth and send it to P.O. Box 847, Hudson, WI 54016. Donations can also be made through PayPal by going the company's website, www.sosplayers.org.

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