Teens Unchained

Back row from left to right stands Brayden Gail, Ezra Lawton and guest speaker of the evening Noyes Lawton. Sitting down in the front from left to right is Torissa Merwine, Roman Merwine and Tesha Merwine. This group came together Monday evening for Teens Unchained.

GALETON — Local teenagers are finding an outlet to express themselves on Monday nights at the Pine Creek Inn, where Tesha and David Merwine, the owners, provide a safe space for people to talk about tough things that happen in life.

The Merwines came up with the idea of “Teens Unchained” when they were at home watching their pet skunk, Rudy, an emotional support animal. Tesha shared that Rudy and the teenagers are fond of each other.

They were thinking about how terrible it is for teens to be judged because of circumstances outside of their control, Tesha said. The Merwines wanted to get people to look past the “what” and look at the “why.” They thought the best way to do that is start with people who are learning. They want to help change the future of the young people in their area.

Rudy, the skunk, is more than just a house pet, there is a meaning behind his presence. He shows Tesha’s and David’s life in a nutshell. He is an example of what Teens Unchained really means and comes from.

“People see a skunk and automatically thinks it stinks. But, Rudy does not stink and is a really sweet thing. I like Rudy because he explains you never judge a book by its cover because sometimes what is inside is really sweet. I like the deep meaning,” Tesha said.

From the example of Rudy and experiences in younger years, the Merwines created Teens Unchained. Tesha wants a place where people can hang out, not be in trouble, and grow. As a person who experienced abuse as a young girl, Tesha understands the importance of having somewhere to go for an escape from home.

Tesha talked about her childhood and spoke of a life lesson that she learned and wanted to share with others. Resentments started causing problems in other areas of her life. This showed her a purpose to pursue.

“I asked myself, ‘what did she do for me?’ I forced myself to flip it around and look at it in a different way. I realized that my mom gave me the greatest gift ever. She taught me what not to do and that was a huge blessing to know how not to be a friend,” Tesha said, “Once I realized how to turn negativity into a positivity, my life changed in measurable ways.”

Turning negatives into positives is a skill she wants to teach teenagers. She understands the feeling of darkness and hopelessness. Tesha shares with teenagers every week that within hopelessness, there is hope and there is a way.

The goal is to show teenagers that it does not matter where they are from, what they have been through or what has happened. It does not have to be their life’s identity. It is important to have a place to say what is on the mind and get positive feedback from peers.

“You would be surprised how much teens really think about Covid and politics. How they feel about everything. They have strong views. It is neat to see kids come together outside of their element and see them talk and help one another. There is nothing more beautiful than watching people do that. It makes you realize just how much they really are aware of what is going on at home, work, and someone else’s life,” Tesha said.

So, Tesha gives a part of her own space from her and her husband’s business to give teenagers a place to be. Teenagers Unchained meets at 7 p.m. every Monday evening. They start out with free pizza and then they hear from a guest speaker. After listening, discussion is held to talk about the testimony and about anything on their minds from the past week.

Guest speakers talk about their life testimonies. Topics may include addiction, mental health or anything that presents itself as a life struggle. This gives teenagers a great opener to talk about what is tough in their own lives.

Parents are welcome to join as well. Sometimes prizes are awarded to the teenagers who come to the group. People who come are lifted up and encouraged to take the lessons they learned from the group with them when they leave.

The Merwines hope that the group grows and that eventually other restaurant like businesses get involved to. Tesha hopes that other districts will do the same and provide this for teenagers in their community as well. She explained that it is a community effort.