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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: In the summer of 1974, I was a runaway teen-age girl from Kansas living on the streets of Las Vegas. A Good Samaritan who called himself "Nard" befriended me.

He showed me a column you had written about Operation Peace of Mind, a program that allowed runaway kids to communicate with their families without disclosing their whereabouts. The hope was that opening the doors of communication between estranged teen-agers and their families would lead to reuniting them.

Operation Peace of Mind's philosophy worked for me. It got me out of a dangerous situation and back home where I belonged. My family and I will always be grateful to Operation Peace of Mind, to Nard and to you, Abby, for making this information available.

Does Operation Peace of Mind or anything similar still exist? Thank you, 22 wonderful years later. -- JANET RAMOS, CORTE MADERA, CALIF.

DEAR JANET: It's gratifying to know that you received the help you needed so long ago.

Although Operation Peace of Mind no longer exists, the need for such programs has not diminished. The streets of major cities all across America are often the only "home" young runaways are able to find. Once these children are on the streets, they are at risk for physical violence, disease and exploitation. They frequently become victims of crime, or resort to crime themselves in order to survive.

Fortunately, another organization that helps runaway and homeless youths, and those who are considering leaving home, does exist.

The National Runaway Switchboard is a toll-free, 24-hour hotline that provides confidential crisis intervention and referrals for youth in crisis and their families. By calling (800) 621-4000, young people nationwide who are stranded on the streets can be referred to a nearby shelter where they can spend the night safely. Teens can also receive crisis counseling, be referred to community-based organizations, and/or have a message delivered (in confidence) or a call conferenced to their families.

In addition, if runaways between the ages of 12 and 18 wish to return home, the National Runaway Switchboard will help them obtain free one-way bus transportation via Greyhound Lines' Home Free Program.

DEAR ABBY: I'm the mother of three active children. We live on a tree-shaded street that is lined with condominiums. Most of them are occupied by families with young children.

The streets are all one-way and drivers frequently travel fast (30 to 40 mph), which is a matter of great concern to me and to other parents.

Now that warmer weather is here, kids are everywhere -- playing ball and hide-and-seek. The kids often forget to look left and right before they dart out from between parked cars.

Drivers need to be reminded to slow down, and parents should remind their kids about the dangers of playing in the streets.

Let's make this a safer summer for our children. Abby, please publish my message. -- PATTI DIAZ IN CHICAGO

DEAR PATTI: Many drivers tend to go faster than they should, and it takes only an instant for tragedy to occur. I'm delighted to help you alert other parents to remind their children to be careful when playing in or near the streets.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600