Changing One Life at a Time

If you were like most teenagers, you had at least a few conflicts with your parents.  Whether it be over curfew, peers, clothes, dating, or other life choices, most teens go through troubling times as they travel the difficult road to adulthood.  At the time, these conflicts are monumental, earth-shattering events filled with yelling and tears.  We’ve all been there and struggled through those times, and most of us don’t ever want to go back.

So imagine if, in the midst of the tumultuous teen years, you were faced with issues that really were  earth-shattering — homelessness, pregnancy, poverty, and more.  Imagine having no safe place to go and no safe person to confide in.  Imagine not knowing what you would eat that night or where you would sleep.  Imagine not having adults in your life who cared enough to have those fights with you — adults who just weren’t there at all.

That’s why The Ark’s Community Services program exists — to meet youth in situations such as these in their time and place of need and to help them grow into self-sufficient, strong, and caring young adults.

During the last six months, our Ark Community Services program has provided intensive services (case management, counseling, and assistance with housing, employment, and education) to more than 45 young people in situations like those described above.  Each of these youth are met where they are at (geographically, emotionally, and mentally), assessed for strengths and needs, and provided services in a manner that helps them build on their strengths.  Over the course of time, case managers become those caring adults that the youth depend on and so dearly need — inevitably having a few conflicts in the process — but establishing stability and a sense of belonging.

Each of the youth we serve is a survivor and we are blessed to help them start and continue their journey to a better place.  Each youth comes with amazing assets and strengths.  These youth, however, often lack hope and a vision of a positive, safe, and happy future.  Case managers help each youth develop personal goals, both short- and long-term, building a vision of a life with amazing possibilities.  As a result of our work, 88.9% of clients who left the program these past six months went to safe and stable housing.  When they entered the program, fully 100% of the youth were homeless.

Even in this difficult economy, we have helped several youth find good-paying and stable jobs.  We have provided many youth with either transitional or permanent supportive housing and assisted several more with security deposits and emergency rent so they can achieve stability.  Many of the youth we serve are choosing to attend college and are able to do so thanks to the Kalamazoo Promise.  Staff help them complete college applications, register, complete financial aid forms, and even explore the campus so they are prepared for classes.  Other youth are determined to receive their high school diploma or GED and we assist them in the process.  Our youth are making positive choices — and seeing positive outcomes — despite tumultuous beginnings.

We are very proud of these youth as they choose to serve on the Catholic Charities Youth Advisory Board, reaching out beyond themselves in service to their community and improving the program that was created to serve them.  Not only are these youth learning how to stabilize their lives and their homes, but they are focusing on others and seeking ways to make life better for their peers.

When I think back to my teen years and the challenges I faced I must admit it was a difficult time in my life.  When I look at our Ark Community Services clients, however, I realize how blessed I truly was.  All of those monumental challenges I faced were truly small in comparison with the trials these youth have faced.  Watching them grow and thrive is a blessing for our agency and we are so grateful for the opportunity to see them succeed.

The biggest difficulty?  We can only reach so many youth with the resources we have.  It is so difficult to hear of one youth’s overwhelming challenges and not be able to provide the full level of services he or she needs.  We simply don’t have sufficient resources to serve all the youth who need them. 

If you would like to learn more about this program or assist us in this amazing and life changing work, please contact Phyllis Senesi at 269-381-9800 or via e-mail at phyllissenesi@ccdok.org.  You won’t regret sharing your gifts with these amazing teens who have overcome so much and you will never look at your teen years in the same way again.

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