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Teens face choices, and consequences, in annual Teen Maze program
South Hall Middle School’s Jesus Lopez, 13, has his picture taken by Kent Townley on Friday afternoon as he reaches the graduation portion of the Teen Maze program.

The front bumper of a car was dented from its impact against a tree, and a still body lay nearby.

The simulated accident was presented for local teens Thursday and Friday to showcase the possible results of poor choices, part of the annual Teen Maze.

Teen Maze allowed students to go through a “maze” of random life choices and face the possible consequences of those choices, from successful high school graduation to unplanned pregnancies and. in some extreme cases, death.

“We have a real-life crash scene with crash victims,” said Elizabeth Fielding, collaborative coordinator for Hall County Family Connection Network. “One victim is dead on arrival, one is arrested for underage drinking and one is injured. They actually load them into the ambulance, and we had the Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police and Hall County Fire here.”

Hall County Family Connection Network teamed with a large number of groups and organizations, including the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police Department, Hall County Fire Services, Hall County Juvenile Court, Hall County Parks and Leisure Services, Rape Response and nearby North Georgia Technical College, Lumpkin County Family Connection, Rabun County Family Connection and Dawson County Family Connection.

The 585 participating teens were eighth-graders from Gainesville Middle School and South Hall Middle School.

As they entered the maze, they either went on a “hot date” or attended a scene with underage drinking and faced the consequences of their random choices thereafter.

Ruth Alligood with Hall County 4H worked a “hot date” station of the maze.

“We tell them it’s the night of their hot date that they’ve been looking forward to all week, and they are going to ‘decide’ if they have sex or not,” Alligood said. “After they pick either yes or no, we defer them either to the drugstore or to the abstinence station. So at each station they have a choice that they draw that determines where they go next.”

Some students’ random choices led them to jail, where they took mug shots and put on bright yellow jumpsuits. Others led to the morgue, where students filled out their own eulogies. A few lucky students made it to the grand prize: high school graduation.

“While in the maze, young people discover the realities that both positive and negative choices may bring,” said Fielding in a release. “As choices and consequences compound, teens experience how their entire life can be affected by any one decision.”

Tony Rutherford, nursing student at North Georgia Technical College, worked a station about sexually-transmitted diseases. Students spun a wheel to determine which disease they randomly contracted.

“They spin this to determine what disease they randomly get, just like life can throw them something random,” Rutherford said. “What we do then is start the education process. We encourage them to make good life choices, though if they get to our table, they’ve already made a bad one. ... In either case, we encourage them to try to continue to make good life choices, so they don’t end up back at our table again.”

Rutherford said it was his first year participating with Teen Maze, and he didn’t know what to expect going in.

“It’s very powerful,” he said. “There was nothing like this when I was a kid. But I told my classmates, I really feel like we’re doing something here, even if we just make the slightest impact on somebody. And I think we are.”

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