In 2012, the Hastings team of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative partnered with other community organizations to secure funding for the development and operation of a living center for older runaway and homeless youth. At the 2012 Children’s Summit, statewide team members honored the project by voting it Project with the Most Impact. Below is a Q & A with Project Coordinator Lauren Slaughter about the Maryland Living Center (MLC).
What is the Maryland Living Center? Who has primarily been involved with planning/development?
The Maryland Living Center is a transitional housing facility that serves runaway and homeless youth ages 16-21. The youth can enter into the program for up to 18 months in which they will work on developing essential proficiencies in areas such as job training, coping skills,
education, independent living skills, financial management, food management, healthy living choices, and relationship development.
Planning for this project began in 2011 when a group of community agency leaders met and identified homeless youth, especially ones aging out of the child welfare system, as a major concern in the community. RuAnn Root, Executive Director of CASA of South Central NE, took the lead and began meeting with different people in the community to figure out what options were out there for combating this problem. After meeting with Linda Addison, Executive Director of Housing Development Corporation, the two organization leaders began the execution of the project. These two women have led the march towards completing this project with support from community organizations such as Hastings Family Planning, Mary Lanning Hospital, Wells Fargo, US Bank, YWCA, Crossroads and local businesses and churches.
What are your primary sources of funding?
For the purchase and renovation of the building the Department of Economic Development is the main funder with a grant of nearly $1 million. In addition to this funding, Housing Development has fronted $400,000 for the project and over $100,000 has been raised through capital campaign efforts.
For ongoing and operational costs Maryland Living Center was able to secure a Transitional Living Program grant through the Families and Youth Service Bureau (FYSB). This grant is for $180,000 each year for 5 years. A 20% match for this grant has been met this year with funding from Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Mary Lanning Hospital Trust, and local churches and individual donations.
How has this been a community effort?
This project wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the community support it has received. Some examples of community collaboration are partnerships with Hastings Family Planning for reproductive education and health needs, the Mary Lanning Clinic for primary health care, Wells Fargo for financial literacy education, Hastings College for peer mentors and facility workers, YWCA for job training assistance, Horizon Recovery for Life Skills and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment options, Healthy Beginnings for parenting education, and New Dimensions and South Central Behavior for mental health. Hastings Public Schools has also been very supportive and assists our program with the distribution of emergency food and hygiene kits. Other support for the program has come from local churches such as First Presbyterian and First St. Paul’s Lutheran who have contributed in numerous ways.
Discuss the importance of the location.
The location of the facility is great for our youth in the program as it is centrally located near many of our partners that will offer services. Within walking distance are the YWCA (job prep), Hastings Family Planning (reproductive health), Wells Fargo (financial literacy and bank accounts), Russ’s Market (food, employer), Hastings College (peer mentors), Walgreens, Keith’s Pharmacy, Mary Lanning Health Clinic & Hospital, and other local shops and food establishments. It is also near a couple parks, which allows for fun recreational activities.
How do you see the courts or DHHS being involved?
I think there are many roles that the court and DHHS will have in our program. Often the youth that enter into the child welfare program and court system are runaway or homeless youth. Maryland Living Center gives an extra support system and option for courts and DHHS to access when looking for assistance for youth. Collaborating in making sure to meet the needs of the youth in the community, especially those aging out of the system, is critical to our program goals.
What are the guidelines for the MLC (i.e., rent, who’s eligible, general rules, etc.)? What responsibilities will the young adult have?
General guidelines for the MLC program are similar to most transitional living programs. Youth that enter into the facility must be runaways, homeless or near homeless, 16-21 and their income under the 110% of poverty line. We require youth to do background checks, sexual registry checks, and urine analysis tests upon entering into the program in addition to completing a formal intake and the Daniel Memorial Independent Living Assessment. Rules for the program will depend on what level the youth is at. The program is split into a 3 level system and as you progress in the program and move through the levels the less restrictive the rules are. The youth do have curfews, a sign in/sign out system, random apartment checks, random UA testing, volunteer 3 hours per month, are required to pay in 30% of their paychecks for rent/utilities and save 10% of paychecks to use after graduating from the program, and follow case plans that are designed with the youths input that will cover the needs of the youth on an individual basis.
What has been the most difficult hurdle?
The most difficult hurdle thus far has been making sure that we raise the money needed for the renovation of the building as well as making sure we have a healthy operational budget that will allow us to give each youth the services he/she is in need of. I would also say that garnering support for the project at times was difficult because people in the community were not always aware of the need for this type of program. Homelessness and being a runaway in rural Nebraska doesn’t always look the same as it does in inner cities which is what the general public is used to seeing so getting them to believe and understand that youth homelessness is a huge problem in our area wasn’t always easy. Over time however, the community has come together and supported this project in a really fantastic and amazing way.
What has been the most rewarding experience so far?
It is hard to name just one! I think every day there is something that happens that makes this a rewarding experience. Whether it is a development in the project that takes us one step closer to the doors opening or an accomplishment of one of our youth like getting into college, there is something each day that reminds me of what a program like this can mean to someone. It is all very exciting and we can’t wait to open the doors and help as many youth as we can.
How do you think this will help a young adult transition to adulthood?
MLC will help youth transition into adulthood in many ways. First, housing a youth and ensuring that their basic safety needs are being met allows a youth to focus on more than where they will rest their head at the end of the day or where their next meal is going to come from. After meeting these basic needs, we will help youth to discover what their goals are and collaborate on a plan to meet those goals. Assisting them in enrolling in school and gaining employment are essential in helping prepare them for adulthood. In addition, providing life skills training, fiscal literacy education, and helping to build permanent connections in the community will help the youth to be more successful once they are out on their own.
Lauren Slaughter, the Maryland Living Center Project Coordinator, can be reached at 402-463-1030.