by Mary Rupert
Community leaders gathered Saturday for the dedication of a home for unaccompanied homeless youth.
The new Avenue Youth House at 3535 Wood Ave. in Kansas City, Kansas, will provide housing for as many as 40 youth ages 16 to 18, according to officials.
There will be 30 long-term beds in the facility and 10 to 15 emergency or cold-weather beds. Previously, there were no unaccompanied youth shelters available in Wyandotte County for this age group. This facility may open in mid-December, according to officials.
This year, there are about 59 unaccompanied homeless youth in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools district, and there are typically 60 to 100 homeless youth during a year, said Desiree Monize, CEO of Avenue of Life.
Monize said 44 agencies have collaborated on this and other projects in the community.
“We need to leverage our gifts, our talents, professional skills, in-kind donations, financial donations together and strategize on how do we solve student homelessness, and that’s what Wyandotte County has done,” Monize said. “School districts across the country are wanting to replicate what’s done.”
Community members met and came up with strategies on what to do about students who do not have homes or guardians, she said. They received ideas from many sources, including about 100 Schlagle High School students who helped outline the needs of students and offered advice on living space at the Avenue Youth House, she added.
“I thank you that you had the foresight to partner with the youth of Wyandotte County and provide them with what they need to be successful,” Monize told project volunteers on Saturday at a ribbon-cutting. More than 100 persons attended the event.
There will be programs in place to help the youth to go on to college and careers, she said.
The students at the facility will have access to therapists, mentors, tutors and case workers, according to officials.
Taylor Penrod, CEO of Barefoot Mission, said the agency designed the programming for the home, and decided to take a holistic approach for the mind, body and soul.
“We worked hard to design a space that teenagers could walk through the door and feel like they were coming home,” Penrod said.
The facility will offer entrepreneurship opportunities, hands-on budgeting classes, peer tutoring, college and career exploration and trade skills programming and other programs, she said. Healthy eating habits will be encouraged with cooking classes, gardening programs and fitness classes, she said. In addition, the facility will offer yoga, art therapy, one-on-one mentoring, Bible studies, and trauma care, she said.
“I am deeply anxious to watch the power of being deeply cared for in a whole way to begin to put our teenagers back together again, to remind them of their purpose, to remind them of their calling, to remind them of their identity and to remind them that they are people who are deeply, deeply cared for and loved,” Penrod said.
Jessica Smith, McKinney-Vento program specialist with the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, said when she first came to work with this job, there was a need for youth to have somewhere to go.
“I am absolutely amazed at what our community can do,” Smith said. This facility was an effort by many groups and persons, she added.
“How many of you woke up and brushed your teeth with your own toothbrush?” she asked the crowd. “Were you grateful that you got to wake up in your own bed and brush your teeth with your own toothbrush?”
That sense of home is what this facility will offer youth, she said.
“These aren’t people who chose to be in this situation. They got stuck there and what we have as a community done is help them get unstuck,” Smith said.
Mayor David Alvey at the ribbon-cutting event said, “I see and I hear the Holy Spirit speaking. When we respond in this way, when we do something like this, and people come together in this way, it’s really our response to the Holy Spirit.
“When we respond to that, to come and do simple things, like providing a place for someone to have their own toothbrush, we are saying, ‘Yes, God, we hear and we will follow and we will do your will,’ ” he said.
Dr. Charles Foust, superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, said often, people think of the American dream as a traditional family picture, but it has texture and multiple dimensions.
He said McKinney-Vento students are part of the American dream and this project’s and the district’s goal is to support them so they can get there.
“I’m most enthused of the work you are able to do and help our kids to be those productive citizens,” Dr. Foust said.
Warmth, a home, a driveway, a yard – the tools that are supposed to be there – are part of the American dream, he said, but these things that are taken for granted by many are missing in the lives of homeless youth.
“What they are doing here is giving kids access to the American dream,” he said.
“It’s good to know that this facility is still being used to help our young people,” Unified Government Commissioner Harold Johnson said. “There are so many stories of children who are often in the margins, often times are nameless, and we don’t tend to think about them, but I’m glad Avenue of Life has historically been a change agent to help deal with the problems that our young people are faced with, who often times are dealt a card in life that they did not ask for.”
Dr. Evelyn Hill, a past president of the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education, said this project has been underway for a long time. Avenue of Life and the Kansas Community Leadership Enterprise agencies have reduced student homelessness by over 50 percent.
The Kansas City Young Matrons helped with the purchase of the building for this facility, she added. The Bukaty and Drescher families were thanked for their donations during the program.
Several other officials attended the ribbon-cutting, including Commissioner Melissa Bynum, and KCK school board members Maxine Drew and Janey Humphries.