Last night, I Slept Out for Covenant House to raise awareness and money to help bring homeless youth from street to self-sufficiency. In a word, I’m hopeful. It may seem like an odd word, but read on…
The evening started with a Candlelight Vigil in Centennial Park to raise awareness and to say a prayer for the homeless youth in Atlanta. On any given night in Atlanta, there are over 700 youth that are living homeless on our streets. To put that in perspective, that is more kids than the full enrollment of some high schools. Nationwide, the problem is staggering. Each year in the U.S. alone, as many as 2 million youth experience a period of homelessness. And, roughly 40% of the general homeless population are youth and young adults.
At the Vigil, we heard inspiring stories from some Covenant House youth. And, we raised a candle in memory of kids that have lost their battle with sufficiency and returned to the streets. At last year’s Vigil, five of the remembered youth lost their lives. This year, there were over 30 youth honored, and thankfully none of them has yet died. Will we reach them and help them in time?
Following the Candlelight Vigil, we had a tour of the Covenant House facility and had the chance to meet and talk with some of the residents. Like last year at my sleep out in New York, I met some amazing, inspiring youth. I’m changing the names to protect their identity, but here are their stories.
“Irene” moved to Atlanta from Ohio to pursue her degree at Georgia State University. Before she moved, she was accepted to school, lined up a job and an apartment. When she arrived, the job fell through and despite repeated efforts to find employment, she was unsuccessful. Within a month, her savings were depleted and she resorted to living in her car. Thankfully, she found relief at an Atlanta shelter, but she was the only young person in residence and it was problematic. The shelter staff introduced her to Covenant House.
“Ricky” was born addicted to drugs as the result of his birth mother’s addiction and drug use during pregnancy.
“Jade” felt unloved in a household with absent parents. She tried to take her own life several times before finding haven with a friend. When that hospitality wore out, she lived on the Marta train and in hiding.
“Natalie” was also born into a family led by a drug-addicted mother. She and her two older siblings had different fathers who were not active in their lives. Her mom wasn’t capable of raising three kids on her own. She put Nyquil in Natalie’s bottle to keep her sleeping. She locked the kids in the barn out back so she didn’t have to deal with them. When the oldest sibling went to elementary school, a teacher recognized trouble and alerted DFAC. Natalie and her siblings never saw their mother again. After years in foster care, Natalie became homeless as a teenager. She is a high school senior and made her way to Covenant House just six months ago.
So, by now, I’m sure you are wondering why I could title this blog post as “hopeful.” Well, that’s the rest of my story.
So many things struck me about these amazing youth. They are resilient, respectful, accomplished and optimistic. Yes, optimistic. So many of us reading this post can’t fathom the way their lives started. But, these kids have broken the cycle. They are moving on to self-sufficiency in some awesome ways:
- “Irene” has now successfully graduated into the Rites of Passage program where holds down a job and begins college at GSU next quarter.
- We had the chance to sing happy birthday to “Ricky” last night, and he beamed. His next phase of life is as bright as the candles on his cake.
- “Jade” no longer feels unloved. She is bubbly and outgoing and her giggle is completely infectious. She thanks “Mama D” and the other Covenant House staffers with teaching her the discipline and showing her the respect her birth mother couldn’t. She aspires to become a social worker some day.
- And, yesterday was a big day for “Natalie.” She enlisted in the US Army. She will graduate high school in May and ships off to boot camp in June. When asked about her motivation for joining the army, her big blue eyes twinkled with delight. “Why, did you know that the Army provides me with a full scholarship to college?” I can’t find adequate words to describe the little happy dance she then danced for us. Any guesses for what she want to study – yep, she too aspires to be a social worker!
After those inspiring stories, we “sleepers” headed out to the courtyard to tuck in for the night. My fellow sleepers represented corporate Atlanta very well with participants from Comcast, Coca-Cola, Accenture, Cox and more. There were also a number of business owners like me, media personalities from WSB and even judges from the Atlanta judicial system. Though I slept out in Atlanta, it was a cold night with temperatures well below freezing.
I was toasty warm though, thanks to the generous folks at Coleman who provided nearly 1000 sleeping bags for volunteer Covenant House sleepers in 20+ cities across North America.
So, in a word, I am HOPEFUL. Hopeful for these kids bright futures and the generations ahead of them that will benefit from their hard work in breaking the cycle of homelessness and achieving self sufficiency.
If this story has inspired you to join the effort, please visit my personal donation page. Donate what you spent on last night’s dinner or this morning’s cup of coffee. Any amount can make a difference.