Guest post by Andre Thomas, leadership san jose Class of 2017 participant

Inez sang Happy Birthday and provided VTA tokens. Rob channeled Usher and cooked up a BBQ dinner. Jim, Chloe, Kim, Ziem and others helped to organize a day that included food, music, games, art, haircuts, movies and more. I, along with several others, took to the streets all night with backpacks, hygiene supplies and pizza, looking for homeless youth and, unfortunately, finding a lot of them.

This is just a piece of the work in which LSJ 2017 has been engaged as part of their community impact project.

Of the 4,000+ unsheltered, homeless individuals in Santa Clara County, approximately 13% are unaccompanied children and transition-age youth under the age of 25, meaning that these are children and youth living on their own without the presence of a parent or adult family member. Youth in Santa Clara County identify as homeless for a variety of reasons: many have been kicked out of their homes, often related to issues of sexuality and gender identity. Others have been abused, neglected or molested and run away. Some have been moved to so many foster homes that they have determined they would rather be on the street than be removed one more time. In many cases, drug addiction was the cause or the ultimate impact of homelessness. They range in age from 15-24 and they are our children.

Stand Up for Kids is an organization that offers these youth a bit of respite from their challenging lives. They rent a space in San Jose where kids can come to take a shower, get fresh clothes and a hot meal, use the computers, find mentors or just kick back with video games, a movie or a good book.

Stand Up for Kids is all volunteer run and the respite center, called The Village, is open whenever volunteers can commit to staffing.

Our class chose to work with this organization because so many of these kids become invisible, forgotten and disregarded. We know we can help to change their trajectories by becoming consistent, supportive presences in their lives. As a group, we have taken on Wednesday evenings – a different 3 or 4 of us volunteer every Wednesday evening to open the Village, provide dinner and hang out with the youth, being on hand for anything from resume help or enrolling in a GED program to taking them on in a game of Madden football or debating who will be kicked off the island in next week’s Survivor episode. We eat together, talk together and reassure these youth that there are people who care about what happens to them.

On a personal level, I have been most moved by spending the night walking the streets with a core group of volunteers in an effort to promote Stand Up for Kids and the services provided at the Village. We carried backpacks containing socks, hygiene kits, and food. We provided pizza and sandwiches to the homeless youth we encountered during our travels. However, even I wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of encountering a homeless youth encampment. They talked with us and shared their stories of heartbreak and abandonment, fear and rejection. It is all too clear to me and many of my classmates that the systems that are designed to support vulnerable youth are failing far too many of them.

Our class is barely halfway into this project and our learning has been exponential. Our most important goal will be to create a structure that is sustainable and provides meaningful impact on the lives of our community’s homeless youth . . . until there is no such thing as homeless youth in our community.

Learn more about the leadership san jose program here.

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