Contributed by Michael McKiernam
PRESS RELEASE from NeighborWorks Alaska:
Wasilla, Alaska - It’s hard to write the recipe for love into a grant, but one innovative and passionate organization provides that missing ingredient to homeless and vulnerable teens every day in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Organizations and community leaders nationwide are paying attention.
MYHouse, which provides housing opportunities, employment training and access to food to homeless youth, received a national award for its work in Wasilla. Its executive director, Michelle Overstreet, was nominated by NeighborWorks Alaska for the Dorothy Richardson Award, which she accepted with two of her staff in Houston, Texas, on October 12th.
Overstreet has tackled the challenge of a growing number of suicides, drug abuse and homeless youth in her community in Southcentral Alaska. With a passion for life-coaching and helping young people grow into their best selves, she confronted this crisis after seeing a youth forced to sleep in his car with no safe alternative at home. “He had nowhere to go, had everything in his car and lived there in the school parking lot. All I could do to help was give him a sleeping bag and some money for gas.”
She went home that night and couldn’t sleep, thinking about the boy’s plight.
“My husband got up and asked, ‘What's going on?’ I replied, ‘I feel like we have to do something for these kids. This is our home, where we want to raise our daughter. We can do better; I want our community to be better than this.” My husband said, ‘Then let's do something to fix it.’”
The mission of MYHouse is to end youth homelessness in Matanuska-Susitna Borough - an area the size of the state of West Virginia. First, there was the coffee shop (Gathering Grounds), which serves as a job-training program. Then came the Steamdriven Boutique, a secondhand clothing store.
Across the coffee shop and boutique, 20 homeless youth are employed and trained at any one time. The third piece of the operation is 14 beds of transitional housing, with the average length of stay a little over a year. Another 14 beds, along with supportive services, are offered for youth battling substance abuse by local partner organization, True North Recovery, founded by a former MYHouse intern.
After Michelle was selected by NeighborWorks Alaska to attend a Community Leadership Institute, the two non-profits joined forces to try to change the way youth homelessness is treated across the state. One of the outcomes is a youth advisory board.
“Too many organizations try to serve youth without any youth voices at the table,” Michelle muses.
How does Michelle define success? Outcomes. Ninety-seven percent of those who complete job training internships are in housing up to three years after training is completed. Another measure is the percentage of clients attending school or working in a job for which they were trained for or better (92 percent).
“Our clients move on by design, and they come back later to celebrate with us, share and tell us how they are doing,” Overstreet says. “We truly care about them and they feel it!”
About NeighborWorks Alaska:
NeighborWorks Alaska is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for families and individuals by preserving homes, creating new housing opportunities and strengthening neighborhoods.