Social Media: Masquerading as Teen Friendships

In the world of teens there are friends and there are online “friends.”  Sometimes it’s difficult for a teen to break away from the social media friends, even for a short time.  That’s not normal.

Friends through social media play an important role in the life of today’s youth.   Social media affects their identities, their outlook on life and competes well for their attention.  What used to be developed through community, faith and relationships is being replaced by access to technology.  Teens are being exposed to subject matter which was once unheard of outside an XXX-rated movie, nasty personal attacks and bullying. 

None of this has been good for today’s youth.

Darred Williams, Youth Ministry Pastor at Morningside Church in Port St. Lucie is a local expert on the problems associated with social media and youth.

Darrell Williams

Darrell Williams

Pastor Williams states, “Society teaches that ‘You have to have the iPhone.  No one should be without one.’  It’s become an addiction.”

Second, he says, “There is an over access to social media that never shuts off.  Students are inundated with information, most of it negative.  The negative media is discouraging, and the student believes, ‘That’s how I am.’ Unwanted. Unloved. Suicidal. “

“Positive media that should be encouraging really isn’t.  This leaves a student thinking, ‘I’ll never be that way.’ Glamorous. Beautiful. Wealthy. Important.”

“Both messages are negative.”

Pastor Williams continues, “One million shallow ‘friends’ doesn’t equate with one deep relationship.  Relationship is important to youth.  They desire it, chase after it, but it cannot be found with social media.  It is found with their mother, their father, and God.   Social media is just imitation.”

Pastor Williams has a few secrets about how to communicate effectively with teens.  He regularly speaks on this topic in both public and private schools to both students and parents.

“Share your experience,” Williams advises.  “Don’t keep what you went through and the mistakes you made a secret.  Your teens will learn from you and avoid some of your mistakes.”

“Next, assist rather than direct.  Ask your teen, ‘What can I do to help you?’  They do not like to be directed.”

“Third, be transparent.  Teens feel that parents don’t understand them, though they do.  They need to learn the values of sacrifice and empathy.”

“Last, it’s important to remember that everyone has something to offer a teen.  What’s necessary is relationship.”

Pastor Darred Williams heads up “Underground Youth,” where he emphasizes raising teens to be prepared adults in their community. He holds a masters in Ministry Leadership from Southeastern University where he is currently working on a doctorate in Educational Leadership.  He may be reached at Morningside Church 772.335.5166 or online at

© 2017 "Hometown Heroes"  Kelly Jadon



Ali's Place: 1st After School Program for Youth with Disabilities


This month, September 2013, Joan Rodriguez opens the only after school program for youth ages 13-22 with disabilities in St. Lucie West, St. Lucie County, Florida.  Named appropriately after her daughter, a young woman with Down syndrome, Ali’s Place is a program which will teach socialization, life skills and self-sufficiency to those who attend.  The goal: ready these youth for work in the community after high school graduation.

Joann and Ali Rodriguez

Joann and Ali Rodriguez

Joann Rodriguez is a two-year brain cancer survivor.  Her inspiration for this start-up is her daughter, Ali.  Ali attends a local public high school in St. Lucie County where she is in the 11th grade.  When Ali was born, a hospital employee asked Joann if she would like to give her daughter up for adoption.  Shocked, Joann responded, “No!”  Her thoughts were, ‘She’s beautiful.’

Down syndrome occurs in one in every 691 babies in the United States, affecting all races.  It is caused when a fetus has a “full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21,” which alters the baby’s development.  In the U.S. there are more than 400,000 people with the Down syndrome.

Mother and Daughter: Joann and Ali Rodriguez

Mother and Daughter: Joann and Ali Rodriguez

In the past, people with Down syndrome lived shortened lives, usually until around age 25 (1983), but because of new medical technology and pharmaceuticals, today, life expectancy for Down syndrome has risen to age 60.  These citizens work, act, run businesses, vote, and are employees.  Some even write news columns. 

Chris Burke played Corky Thacher on ABC’s “Life Goes On.”  Today he writes a monthly column and is a member of the National Down Syndrome Society acting as a Goodwill Ambassador.

Tim Harris is the owner of the restaurant Tim’s Place.  Tim has been featured on CBS and NBC. He is a Special Olympics athlete.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, the keys are “quality educational programs, a stimulating home environment, good health care and positive family and community support.”

“Youth with disabilities can be a valuable part of society,” says mother Joann Rodriguez.  She speaks from firsthand experience. 

Conney Dahn, Florida State Teacher of the Year, who is an expert in teaching those with disabilities says this: I believe there’s a place for them.” (Prior to the recession, 90% of Dahn’s high school graduates found jobs through a Career Experience program, much like that of Ali’s Place.)

Ali’s Place is working with local businesses who have agreed to bring youth from her program into their work places as volunteers for training.  One such business is the Vincent De Paul Thrift Shop in St. Lucie West, Florida.  More local businesses are needed to open their doors and allow the youth to have on-the-job-training. 

Ali’s Place is open to youth, not just with Down syndrome, but also to other youth with disabilities.  It is licensed and insured and Ali’s Place is a Medicaid Waiver provider.  The program costs $50 weekly.  It is located in St. Lucie West at:  590 NW Peacock Blvd. St Lucie West in Port St. Lucie, 7th Door in back of building

The program employs a behavior tech who has experience within the public school setting, a sign language teacher, and several volunteers.

Behind Ali’s Place is a Board:

  • Port St. Lucie Police Officer  Gerry Cantalupo
  • Port St. Lucie Police Officer Joe Diskin
  • Lindsey Duren
  • Elizabeth Wehreim Osler—an Occupational Therapist
  • Jennifer Ortiz—Director of the Treasure Coast Angels in Port St. Lucie, Florida

Joann Rodriguez emphasizes that there is no other program like this in St. Lucie County where she estimates that there are approximately 300 youth who could qualify for Ali’s Place.

A mother-daughter team who have persevered and are helping to change the world, Joann and Ali Rodriguez are not just Hometown Heroes, but pioneers in a modern culture. 

To contact Joann Rodriguez with questions or to find out more information about Ali’s Place, email her at: or phone her at 772-209-2086

HAVE A HERO TIP? Hometown Heroes are in every town and city. They are regular people who have made a positive difference in their community, impacting others for the better. Send your Hometown Hero tip to Kelly Jadon or find her online at

Why Good News Matters In 2013

   © 2013 "Hometown Heroes" Kelly Jadon