LOS ALTOS (KPIX 5) — Raising a teenager can be difficult, especially if that teen is in crisis. One Peninsula mother’s life experience is now helping other parents in the Bay Area, through the program she founded called Willows in the Wind.

Colleen talked about the first time she came to a Willows in the Wind meeting.

“I was heartbroken,” said Colleen, who didn’t want to use her full name. “As a parent all your dreams for your child just came crashing down.”

Colleen’s then-13-year-old son had become out of control, and she had just sent him to a therapeutic boarding school.

She needed support and found it among parents who shared similar experiences.

Janet Rao knew the same feeling.

“You feel like you are the only one going through this and you feel like you are totally alone,” Rao told KPIX 5.

She co-founded Willows in the Wind almost seven years ago, after her daughter needed to be sent away to school.

Rao found there were very few free resources to help parents with teens in crisis.

“It could be mental problem, it could be flat out behavioral , it could be bipolar, it could be severe depression,” Rao said. “It could be for many reasons, but it all equals the same thing: you have a child that’s in danger and you have to do something.”

It’s not a replacement for professional help. Willows is about parents helping parents, whether it’s finding the right program, or helping them prepare for a child’s return to the family.

Rao and her all volunteer board have been there.

“They’ve all gone through it, they’ve all had graduates, they’ve all come out on the other side,” she said.

Once a month, parents can drop in to free meetings in Los Altos and Oakland. It’s a chance to connect.

One mother, Jennifer, explained, “It was like ahhhhh here. I didn’t feel alone. I felt supported. There are resources.”

Working out of the family marketing office in South San Francisco, Janet talks daily to parents. She plans workshops and educational programs for more than 300 families who have found support through the non-profit.

And though her daughter is now a thriving adult, Janet continues to share life lessons she says made her family stronger.

“We gave our whole family a wonderful gift in terms of how much closer it made all of us and what we learned from it,” Rao said. “That is what my hope is for every parent, that it can be a positive experience, and that’s what we strive for.”

So for helping parents cope with the challenges of a child in crisis, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Janet Rao.