Fred Trainer, a teacher at De La Salle Vocational, speaks during a peer outreach session Feb. 14 at Our Lady of Port Richmond School, Philadelphia. Trainer created the Peer Council program to enable at-risk youths to share their stories with area students. (Gina Christian)

From “Troubles behind them, teens show kids a better way to live” written by Gina Christian –

Philadelphia, PA – Students at Our Lady of Port Richmond School in Philadelphia recently set aside their books for a lesson in the most difficult subject of all: life.

On Feb. 14, the school’s eighth-grade class hosted a presentation by three members of the Peer Council program at De La Salle Vocational, the day treatment center of St. Gabriel’s System in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The Peer Council program brings De La Salle youth into area classrooms to share their stories with students. Fred Trainer, a teacher and counselor at De La Salle, moderates the sessions, encouraging the students to analyze the speakers’ experiences and to apply the lessons learned to their own lives.

“The hardest thing to do is to turn your life around once you’ve started going down a wrong path,” Trainer said. “These De La Salle students are turning it around, and are now serving as teachers to other students.”

Many of the Peer Council speakers struggled with poverty, traumatic loss and substance abuse before they entered De La Salle.

After his father died of cancer, 17-year-old Eric began living on the streets. With his mother addicted to drugs and the family at risk for eviction, he started cutting school, getting high and dealing drugs to feed himself. Twice arrested, he found himself facing almost a year in prison.

“I thought, ‘That’s crazy; I’m about to miss out on my life,’” he said. “It’s not worth it.”

Eventually adjudicated to De La Salle, Eric now welcomes the chance to help teens make life-affirming choices.

“I’m really excited to tell people about my experience, so they can hopefully not walk in the shoes I did,” he said.

Now in its 20th year, De La Salle’s Peer Council program serves a number of Catholic and public schools, as well as several colleges. The speakers share their stories with approximately 500 eighth-graders and 150 university students annually.

The council members also participate in the Philadelphia Police Department’s training program, sensitizing cadets to the challenges encountered by troubled youth. To date, the Peer Council has worked with over 300 police officers.

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