veronapatchThis article originally appeared in the Verona-Cedar Grove Patch. Click here to read the full article 

A new 10-week-long Verona and Nutley-based program is helping local teenage boys behave better in school through weekly work sessions that concentrate on developing various social skills.

The "Got Skills?" program is one of three teen programs organized by LifeWorks Counseling LLC, run by Licensed Clinical Social Workers Gina M. Unger and Ingrid E. Burke.

The group sessions are attended by students who frequently get into trouble at school, get into fights or have challenges making friends. The sessions focus on understanding their feelings and interpreting the feelings of others.

"We do a lot of role playing," said LifeWorks Clinical Therapist Engin Bahce. "What do you do when someone starts to fight with you? We talked about first impressions and making friendships. We talked about body language and about developing empathy for others."

Teens from Verona, Cedar Grove, Belleville, Nutley, Bloomfield Montclair and East Hanover have been drawn to the program.

A group of five boys, ages 12 to 16, met in October 2012 for the first teen session hosted by LifeWorks.

"At first they were quiet and shy because everyone is a stranger to one another," said Bahce. "I let them know on day one that it's a safe place where everyone is going to feel safe. I have no tolerance for ridicule."

"They really clicked after the first session," he said. "On the last day we had a pizza party and three out of the five showed interest in doing it again. One even said he came to the sessions for fun."

Many of the sessions focused on social skills, avoiding violent confrontation, preventative measures and even basic skills like keeping eye contact, how to start a conversation with someone and how to interact in person as opposed to texting.

"One shy individual wanted to know how to go about starting a conversation and another boy needed help controlling his temper," said Bahce. "Before the sessions he kept getting suspended for fighting. Afterwards he didn't get into fights because he realized it's not worth getting into trouble over."

One parent told Bahce his son was having trouble making friends. The sessions really helped him, the father said, and some of his friends from band even invited him out to a movie.

"Some of them talked about playing online together, so they may have kept in touch afterwards," said Bahce. "I felt like I gave them more confidence in their abilities. It felt good seeing the change in them from the first session to the last session."

LifeWorks will start a second session for boys in late February and also offers a workshop for girls called "It's a Girl Thing," which focuses on building self-esteem, middle school issues and high school relationships. The first girls sessions will begin Feb. 26.

To register, contact Ingrid Burke or Gina Unger at (973) 441-0886 or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.