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November 23, 2014

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Angels in the Valley:

High school isn’t all mean girls

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to The Sunday

Dedicated to helping at-risk teens, co-founder 14-year-old Siena Prenger stands in a packed garage of clothing, school supplies, homemade blankets and hygiene kits collected as part of her nonprofit “Teens Helping Teens” at her home in North Las Vegas.

Siena Prenger could spend her monthly allowance on clothes, makeup or most anything a typical teenager might enjoy as she embarks on high school. But Prenger isn’t your average 14-year-old.

She does buy clothes — Ugg boots and True Religion jeans — but they’re not for her. Instead, they’ll dress one of the 7,000 homeless youths in Clark County who are the focus of Prenger’s charity, Teens Helping Teens.

Launched in 2006 with Prenger’s sister Savannah, 18, Teens Helping Teens collects, buys and distributes supplies for homeless teens and at-risk children. The group works with nonprofit agencies such as the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth and Shade Tree Shelter to provide hand warmers, backpacks, clothes and more.

“It’s not just about helping them get stuff they need, it’s stuff they want and like,” Prenger said. “That’s what’s going to make them feel confident. And when you’re a teenager, that’s what’s most important. You’re finding yourself, and you want to fit in.”

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Community outreach is nothing new for Prenger. As a young child, she and her sister volunteered with the National Charity League with their mother, Cherylann. As teens, they were struck by the lack of resources available for their homeless peers and began visiting shelters to find out what was needed.

“Teens don’t want to reach out and ask for help because they don’t want anybody to know (their situation),” Prenger said. “They’re embarrassed. And that’s why there aren’t a ton of resources for them, because they’re not really going to be coming to ask for it, and the shelters aren’t going to go looking for them. We thought we’d try making it more peer-to-peer help so that it would be a lot more comfortable for them. ”

Classmates looking to fulfill community service requirements soon got involved, enough that the sisters launched a website to list volunteer events and needed supplies.

Today, the site is a hub for volunteers, nonprofit groups and homeless youths. Volunteers work through social media and use collection drives to gather shoes, underwear, toiletries, and birthday and holiday gifts for teens at local shelters. Prenger organizes regular Teens Helping Teens events and speaks at local middle and high schools to rally volunteers and spread awareness.

“I can’t do enough to help these kids who have really touched my heart,” she said. “All of us deserve the same chance at success.”

Teens Helping Teens has about 100 regular teen volunteers, plus many more for special events, and has raised more than $30,000.

In May, Prenger was one of two Nevadans honored with a Prudential Spirit of Community Award, which recognizes the top 100 youth volunteers across the country. Prenger, who was nominated by her peers and teachers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, received $1,000 and was flown to Washington, D.C., for an honoree gala.

When asked how she plans to juggle volunteering with the demands of high school, where she plans to study art and join the cheer squad at Bishop Gorman, Prenger doesn’t hesitate.

“It’s harder during the school year, but I just stay up later,” she said. “I’m kind of a night owl. When you want to do the things you love, you find a way to make it happen.”

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