Helping homeless youth at the Y

January 26, 2012

Thanks for your insightful front-page story on the increasing homelessness among Maryland youths ("Homeless student numbers growing," Jan. 22). Your story sheds light on a largely unseen, deeply troubling problem of which we are keenly aware.

Of as great concern as what homeless youth experience during the winter months is what they endure during the long, hot summer days when school is out. Shelters typically are closed between dawn and dusk during this season, and these vulnerable young people are often left to fend for themselves.

The Y of Central Maryland has been running a program each summer called New Horizons II. It is one of only two such programs in the city — the other is run by St. Vincent dePaul — that address the needs of homeless youth during the summer months.

Our program has been funded over the years by a range of organizations, including the Baltimore City Public Schools, the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, the Hirschhorn Foundation, the Knott Foundation,T. Rowe Priceand YouthWorks, among others. The goal is to interrupt the cycle of poverty that caused these young people and their parents to become homeless in the first place.

The programs aim to creates successful pathways to learning for homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 19 by providing academic enrichment, career education and real-world work experiences over the summer months. We try to keep this vulnerable population connected to peers, caring adults, activities and new opportunities. We also connect them to our broader Y community by providing free memberships to youths and their families.

New Horizons II summer activities include financial literacy, resume writing, interviewing skills, workplace etiquette, health and wellness (swimming, basketball, fitness), service learning projects, leadership, healthy relationships and arts.

Participants are placed at a work site half days and are expected to demonstrate basic workplace skills; their performance is evaluated throughout the summer. Youth are compensated for their working hours.

Our previous funding levels allowed us to serve an average of about 60 kids per summer. There is always a waiting list, however, and many kids must be turned away.

Thank you for shedding light on this important issue. We hope other institutions of this region will step in and help address this growing and deeply disturbing trend.

John K. Hoey

The writer is president and CEO of the Y of Central Maryland.

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