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Lake Villa Community Leaders Continue to Make a Difference for OHU

Dr. Raj and Rose Bhatt have spent 59 years working and living in Lake County, IL, and distinguishing themselves as leading philanthropists. Raj built an esteemed career at Abbott Laboratories as a research and development scientist, utilizing his PhD in Microbiology and Biochemistry. Rose worked as a Lab Technician and raised her 2 children, Ramesh and Anita. The Bhatts also have four grandchildren. Fortunately for One Hope United, they have shared their time and talent with the organization for over 54 years. 

In 1968, when Raj and Rose were members of the First Baptist Church in Waukegan, they became familiar with what was known then as the Central Baptist Children’s Home. The organization operated its Busy Bee Early Learning Center in the annex across the street from the church. As Rose researched her options for childcare while preparing to return to work, she chose Busy Bee for her son, Ramesh. Rose and Raj always felt he received the best care and stimulation, and this early education provided the foundation for their son’s future success. Reflecting on the impact of their volunteerism and philanthropy, Rose is quick to say the unparalleled quality of One Hope United’s early learning programs has made them proud to be part of the mission. 

Because she was so impressed with the quality of education at Busy Bee, Rose became an active volunteer. She also shared her efforts and talents with the Central Baptist Women’s Auxiliary, raising funds for the Early Learning Centers and Lake Villa Residential program. Rose and her husband Raj are two of One Hope United’s most generous donors and contributed one of the largest donations in history in the form of a stock donation. 

Even during busy or challenging seasons of life, Rose and Raj have remained committed to One Hope United, because they see the value the organization adds to so many communities. One story in particular has stayed with them through the years. At a June picnic celebrating the kickoff of summer for youth at the Lake Villa Residential home, they met a spirited 8-year-old who epitomized the positive influence of the care provided there. The youth was placed with OHU after the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) found him in an empty warehouse, where they suspected he had been living on his own for about two weeks. His parents lost track of him due to their addiction issues and struggles to find a place to live. He had never attended school, but was bright and enthusiastic about all learning, especially math. He thrived in school and leapt ahead two grade levels quickly. Rose and Raj were struck by the effectiveness of the intervention OHU provided. 

When asked how they feel about the impact they’ve made for OHU as Scofield Gibbs Society members, they shared they are sincerely grateful for being able to support many children and families in need in Lake County. They have also appreciated One Hope United’s commitment to stewarding their contributions well by maintaining excellent staff and keeping a handle on administrative costs. Their legacy is the many hours spent volunteering over 54 years, and their generosity in annual contributions and a planned gift. 

Learn how you can make an impact for One Hope United through a planned gift.

 

Sibling Pair Finds Forever Home after Seven Years in Foster Care

In 2015, Elijah and Deviana were removed from their biological parents’ care when Elijah was only a year and a half and Deviana six months old. The siblings were placed with a foster family through a foster care agency in Florida. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, their foster family experienced new stresses that left them unable to continue to provide a home for the pair. Having already spent years in the foster care system, their caseworker at the time placed Elijah and Deviana in a pre-adoptive home. Unfortunately, their road to adoption would be long and rocky. 

As time went on, it became clear that Elijah and Deviana’s pre-adoptive family wasn’t the right fit. During a time that had so many changes for these two children, their pre-adoptive family was considering separating Elijah and Deviana. 

Fortunately, with the help of Elijah and Deviana’s One Hope United team, as well as the advocacy of OHU’s partners at Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a new match with loving parents was made for Elijah and Deviana. Dr. Letitia Browne-James, Elijah and Devian’s adoptive mother, is a licensed and board-certified clinical mental health counselor, and her husband, Mr. Jonah James served in the Army.

Dr. Browne-James and her husband knew adoption would be their path to parenting. After passing home studies, their adoption recruiter reached out to share details around Elijah and Deviana’s case. They worked to shield the children from the anxiety and stress of prolonged legal proceedings, while being open and honest with them. “I always wanted my children to know we weren’t giving up on them – we were actually fighting for them,” Dr. Browne-James said. 

“These parents were present at every court date, and often shared updates with us via text or email on how their children were doing – the bad days and the good days,” shared Lindsay Dodich, BSW/CCWCM, Lead Adoption Specialist with OHU’s Florida Services. While Elijah and Deviana’s initial adjustment to their new home was challenging, their parents were ready to go above and beyond to make sure they received all the therapies and support they needed. 

“They are the epitome of what foster and adoptive parents should be,” Lindsay concluded. “Letitia knew she was meant to be a mom. She kept her heart open, and never stopped believing in her family.” On August 4, 2022, Judge Greg A. Tynan finalized their adoption – ensuring Elijah and Deviana would always have the love, safety, and security of a forever family. 

Because their case was open for seven years, almost every staff member on One Hope United’s Florida Adoption team got to know Elijah and Deviana. Knowing they are stable, and part of a loving family touched each of their hearts. Today, both Elijah and Deviana are thriving in school, and their behavioral and mental health are improving. Elijah was especially excited about having a last name that matched his parents’. He loves karate, action movies, bikes, and video games. Deviana is into dress-up, arts, makeup, and dolls. Their family has worked together to help the siblings improve their relationship, which is strong and healthy now. 

When possible, keeping sibling groups together is always a priority for OHU Foster Care and Adoption staff. Lindsay Dodich said, “Elijah and Deviana have only had each other their whole lives. I’ve never seen siblings who are so fiercely protective of each other. As they’ve continued to grow and thrive with their parents, I’ve seen their healing journey move forward.”

Dr. Browne-James shared, “Lindsay kept me sane. She is an amazing person and was always professional and responsive. She advocated whenever she could to help us get to this point.” 

When asked what advice she would share with other couples considering adoption, Dr. Browne-James shared, “You should prepare for unexpected bumps in the road, but know what you’re fighting for, and that it will be worth it in the end.” 

“When I tell you it has been a long road to permanency for these children, I mean it,” said Charles Vance, CCWCMS, Adoption Supervisor, Florida Services. “The last 2 years have been their toughest. Challenging does not begin to describe the road it took to get them to this day, but our team could not be happier or prouder to see where they are now.”

*If you would like to support One Hope United’s efforts to match more children with loving adoptive parents, consider making a gift. 

 

 

 

Ensuring a Successful Back-to-School Season for Youth in Residential Care

The back-to-school season brings excitement, nerves, and a season of change for youth of all ages across the country. Youth in Residential or Group Homes may require extra support, and the Youth Care Workers and Staff Members at One Hope United’s Residential programs take careful steps to ensure children and youth have the resources and encouragement they need for a successful school year. 

Read below for a special guest blog from Emily Owen, MS, Director of Programs and Placement Services at the Centralia Residential and Group Home Campuses, about what the back-to-school season looks like for youth in Residential care in Illinois. 

Back-to-school is a time we celebrate in our Residential and Group Home programs each year. Every summer, we throw a Summer Kick-Off event that involves BBQ, games and laughter. Most of our youth attend a summer school program through the month of June. During this time, youth attend classes for half of the day to receive additional educational support and most importantly, credit recovery. This assists in keeping structure and routine in place for the youth as well. 

School can be a difficult time for some. A lot of the youth in our care have bounced around in several different schools because of placement changes, and as a result, are behind academically. This can also be a barrier for developing and strengthening social skills, as well as participating in extra curricular activities. However, many of the youth we serve thrive in school and look forward to getting back into the ritual and routine of the school day. We work with each youth to foster their unique interests and make sure that their needs are being met. 

The young women at our campuses participate in back-to-school clothing shopping as well as supply shopping to prepare for the upcoming school year. One unique aspect of serving many different clients is that they all have individual educational needs. Our youth could attend a variety of schools based on their educational needs, and it is possible that we could be sending youth to 1 of 6 potential educational settings. This can be a juggling act for staff and youth scheduling and transportation needs. 

Each year, we host a back-to-school bash to get our youth excited about the new school year. It is very important for our programs to honor the societal norms that are occurring in traditional homes so that we can make our youth feel like they are special, and to make sure they have access to similar home-based experiences their peers have. Last year, we provided youth with a special back-to-school gift bag that included many fun items for them to enjoy. The bag included sensory items as well as a hand-crafted bracelet with an encouraging note. These types of acts of kindness are always appreciated and encouraged from our donors.

You can make a difference for the youth in our care by volunteering or making a gift. 

 

 

 

Providing Culturally-Informed Behavioral Healthcare for BIPOC Children and Families

According to Mental Health America (MHA), Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are more likely to screen positive or at-risk for alcohol and substance abuse disorders, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and psychosis. Barriers to accessing quality mental healthcare in BIPOC communities can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as cultural stigma around mental illness, systemic racism and discrimination, language barriers, mistrust of mental health care providers, and a lack of cultural competency on the part of mental health care providers.   

Additionally, MHA reports that: 

  • Of the 18.3% of the U.S. population estimated to be Latino or Hispanic, of those, over 16% reported having a mental illness in the past year. 
  • Of the 13.4% of the U.S. population who identify as Black or African American, of those, over 16% reported having a mental illness in the past year. 
  • Of the 1.3% of the U.S. population that identifies as Native American or Alaskan Native, of those, over 19% reported having a mental illness in the past year. 

At One Hope United, our Case Managers, Youth Care Workers, and Therapists are committed to providing culturally informed, holistic care for thousands of BIPOC children, youth, and families each year. 

Throughout her 30-year career, Jana Grooms, Clinical Director of Placement Services, has seen bias and stigma persist in BIPOC communities around seeking behavioral healthcare. Jana said, “We can’t expect to engage clients in services successfully without building trust and conducting research to ensure our teams understand any cultural differences or biases they may carry into their work subconsciously.” 

Jana also acknowledged that historical patterns and generational trauma contribute to mistrust when it comes to behavioral healthcare. In recent years, she has seen leaders in the child welfare sector conduct more training around cultural competency and cultural differences that may exist between white caseworkers and BIPOC clients. For example, Jana has seen that many Hispanic families want to be very involved with their child’s behavioral health treatment and may not understand why they can’t sit in on their child’s therapy session, because traditionally in Hispanic cultures, families are very tight-knit and view each member of the family as a component of the whole. In her work with Black clients, Jana has seen generational trauma and systemic racism in healthcare negatively impact clients’ mental health and decrease their trust and willingness to participate in services.

“We will continue to work to decrease stigma around behavioral health treatment, and ensure the communities we serve have access to quality programs and services,” Jana concluded.

Former OHU Executive Director Continues Legacy of Service

Pat Griffith Stoller joined One Hope United when it was known as Central Baptist Family Services. Before working at the organization, she served on several policy committees with the organization’s staff members. She respected these colleagues, and her confidence in the mission grew quickly. 

Pat always knew she wanted to change the world in her own way, and after obtaining her Master’s degree in Social Work, she felt drawn to child welfare. As Executive Director in Southern Illinois, she expanded evidenced-based programming and practices, and always emphasized compassion and enthusiasm. “I have focused my efforts on strengthening families whenever possible,” Pat shared. “Helping families stay together has been a primary focus throughout my 40-year career.” 

Her relationships with leaders in Edgar County, located in Paris, IL, resulted in significant programming funding, benefitting both the Central Baptist Children’s Home and the Lake Villa Residential program. The high quality of care children receive at One Hope United is the component of Pat’s legacy she views as her most valuable contribution. Her years of service continue to make an imprint in the lives of One Hope United staff, children, and families. 

“Pat was a compassionate leader,” Melissa Y. M. Webster, M.S., LCPC, Executive Director of Residential and Day School Programs, shared. “I could call her day and night in a crisis, and she would offer calm and wise counsel. She cared deeply about staff and youth, and she fought to continue programs that served children and families who needed it most.” 

While reflecting on her career, Pat shared she always knew her heart belonged with One Hope United’s mission, and this has kept her involved over the years. “I would encourage anyone interested in making a lasting impact on children and families to utilize planned giving,” Pat said. “One Hope United has a legacy of support that reaches back decades, allowing current services to continue despite changes in funding. 

“I chose to join the Scofield Gibbs to return something to OHU for the opportunities I was given,” she concluded. “I also know that planned gifts are used wisely and effectively.” Pat’s generosity will impact children and families for many years to come.

Learn how you can make an impact for One Hope United through a planned gift. 

40 Years of Excellence in Early Learning Education

Rosanne DeGregorio recently celebrated her retirement after 40 years in early childhood education. She made an immeasurable impact on the lives of thousands of children and families, as well as her fellow teachers and staff who had the opportunity to learn from her. 

The spring of her senior year of college, Rosanne’s sister called to invite her to apply at One Hope United’s Bridgeport I Early Learning Center. She enjoyed her summer so much that she decided to continue teaching at the center. Her experience with one student in particular helped Rosanne see that teaching truly was her calling.

Rosanne was warned that Jo* would be challenging to work with. As weeks passed and Rosanne continued working with Jo, she spent time getting to know her. Rosanne learned that a lot was going on in Jo’s life, and her life outside of school was obviously affecting her ability to focus and perform to the best of her ability in the classroom. Jo and Rosanne became close, and over time, Rosanne taught techniques to help Jo manage her emotions. “I wanted to continue my career in education because of Jo,” Rosanne shared. “Seeing her blossom into a smart, funny student, making friends and enjoying her life, was so rewarding.” 

Rosanne was eventually promoted to Director and earned a scholarship to pursue her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She developed strong relationships with staff across One Hope United’s early learning programs, and felt her professional experiences were part of her personal evolution throughout the years. “I’ve always wanted to be in a helping profession. Having a job that has meaning and serves families has meant everything to me,” she said. 

Rosanne also shared that she chose to build her career at One Hope United because of the organization’s rich history, and its potential for growth. A few years after she began working at the Brideport I Center, it became the first OHU Early Learning Center to become certified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Rosanne was part of the group of educators promoting the importance of NAEYC certification, and understood it was an important distinction which would show the high quality of education OHU Early Learning Centers provided. 

A few of Rosanne’s favorite memories from her career include the thanksgiving dinner Ms. Sadie served at Bridgeport I, staff camping trips, and seeing future generations of families return to the center for their children’s education. 

When asked what advice Rosanne would share with a teacher beginning their career in early education, Rosanne shared, “With so many changes in our world today – from the impact of COVID-19 to changes in funding streams – it’s so important to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. This field is hard, and it requires your whole heart and soul. You must love this work, and love serving people.” 

In retirement, Rosanne is looking forward to traveling in Italy and Hawaii, and spending time with family. She plans to stay connected to One Hope United, and to early childhood education. “This is my life’s work, and I still have more to contribute,” Rosanne concluded. 

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Learn how you can make an impact for children and families through a career at One Hope United.

 

Building the Mindset to Achieve Greatness Over Time

“Sometimes, a change in their living environment is exactly what a young person needs to leave negative behaviors behind and move forward in a positive direction.” 

When Charles “Chuck” Metellus, MSW, CWCM, Diversion Supervisor with One Hope United, first began working with Sam*, the teenage boy was struggling to cope in the aftermath of tragedy. Several of Sam’s nine siblings had been removed from his mother’s care due to a severe drug addiction, and Sam was experiencing suicidal ideations, which resulted in emergency medical attention. In fact, on several occasions, Sam admitted himself to emergency care. “Sam told me he could only think and be with himself when he was hospitalized,” Chuck said. 

Chuck provided in-home services for Sam in conjunction with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). He also mentored Sam, and took him out to eat. Chuck quickly realized Sam’s environment was the biggest factor holding him back from improving his mental health. “Sam is a smart kid with a lot of potential, but it’s nearly impossible to change when so many of the people closest to you are making unhealthy choices,” Chuck shared. 

Chuck located Sam’s older sister, who was willing and able to provide a healthier home environment for Sam. Chuck was assisted by Child Protective Investigator (CPI), Hipolito, who played a “crucial” role in Sam’s case. At the beginning of March, Sam boarded his first flight to start his new life in North Carolina. 

Since then, Sam has enrolled in his new school, and is doing well academically. He joined the baseball team and hit a home run in his first game. He has remained drug-free since moving to North Carolina. Chuck spoke with Sam on March 29, 2022. Sam was in good spirits and told Chuck he was “doing great.” 

“Family placements are often preferred in cases like Sam’s. His relationship with his sister was already trusting and mutually respectful,” Chuck said. “I am confident this was the best move Sam could have made. He is restructuring his thought patterns and habits in an environment where he has the tools and resources he needs to be happier.”

Chuck has a personal motto that guides the approach he takes in working with youth: “If you search for perfection, you might meet disappointment along the way. However, greatness can be achieved and displayed over time.” He went on to say, “Not every attempt will be a success, and not every shot will go swish. But each person has their entire lifetime to keep trying.” 

He believes looking at a person holistically, rather than only focusing on their addiction, substance abuse or mental health condition, is key to understanding them. Chuck also feels the Trust-Based Relational Interventional Model, which places an emphasis on building rapport and trust, helps him connect with Gen Z youth, as “this generation values authenticity above all else.” 

At the age of 11, Chuck emigrated from Haiti to the United States. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida, and he “stumbled upon” the Case Manager career path when he graduated from college. Already a father of two at the time, he saw Case Management as an avenue to make a difference and live as a servant leader. “The field of Social Work is so important, because many families just need one caring person or one push to get through a challenging time,” Chuck said. “Social workers help remove barriers, so families can continue on their journey.” Chuck earned his Master’s in Social Work in May of 2021. 

Chuck was recently promoted to Assistant Director at OHU’s community home-based placement program, Hope House, where four youth live and receive treatment at a time. “Working with youth makes me feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose on this earth,” Chuck concluded. “I want to be the person I wish I had in my life growing up.” 

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

You can support the efforts of our frontline staff like Chuck, and make a difference for more young people like Sam, by donating.

 

Choosing Steppingstones Over Stumbling Blocks

When William “Bill” Beck received a call from the Director of the Hudelson Baptist Children’s Home (the organization that would later become One Hope United), over 50 years ago, he decided to “contribute what he could” by serving on the Board of Directors. A meeting with Clinton Rogier and Forest Sprehe, who also serve on the board, helped him to grow his understanding of the important work the organization was doing. But at the time, he did not know the mission would make a permanent place in his heart. 

Bill served a term as Board Chair of the Hudelson Baptist Children’s Home and has served on One Hope United’s Board of Directors for over 35 years. However, he modestly considers his impact to be minimal. His role was “to ask the questions that spoke to the financial condition of the organization, as well as the quality of the many programs.” He felt that by asking the right questions and making sure the organization moved forward in a strong financial position, he could help make sure that teachers, therapists, and social workers had the resources they needed to make a lasting impact for children and families. 

Driving home from Board meetings, Bill always took time to reflect on his blessings. The Hudelson Baptist Children’s Home received a donation of prime farmland in Central Illinois about 70 years ago from the Hall family. Bill drives by that farmland every week on his way to the attend the Old Stonington Baptist Church on Sundays and still draws inspiration from that land to this day, because it provides the means to support children and families. He is the third generation of his family to attend the Old Stonington Baptist Church, which was founded 187 years ago. In fact, the Hudelson Baptist Children’s Home was the philanthropic cause this church supported when Bill was growing up. 

Bill graduated from the Reppert School of Auctioneering in 1961. It turned out to be “one of the best investments” he ever made. Today, he enjoys spending time outdoors, and regularly volunteers at his church’s food pantry. He also continues to run his auction business. 

Bill said that one of the most satisfying experiences he has had during his service with One Hope United is observing the talented and committed staff as they support so many children and families. He has also appreciated hearing from former youth in care who have returned to share their experiences at One Hope United events. “Seeing youth who have grown up and built happy lives, surrounded by people who care for them, is fulfilling,” he said. 

Reflecting on his many years of service, Bill shared that his philanthropic involvement opened his eyes to his own blessings and helped him see the importance of giving back to his community. His mother, and the emphasis she placed on spirituality and faith, was an important influence in his life. She felt that “you need to share what you have been blessed with.” Bill feels that a gift to OHU from his estate will have a lasting impact. 

Wise advice from his mother has guided Bill’s life. She said that throughout life’s difficulties, you could choose stumbling blocks or steppingstones. Bill chose the path of service with One Hope United. 

 

Learn how you can make an impact for One Hope United through a planned gift. 

 

What Disney’s “Encanto” Shows About Cultural Competence in Therapy

Movies like Disney’s “Encanto” are drawing attention to the unique challenges Latino and Latina immigrants face. Therapists who spoke with CNN said many first-generation children of immigrants see themselves reflected in “Encanto,” hear their experiences in the soundtrack, and are using the film to speak out about things that otherwise might go unsaid.

We asked One Hope United therapists about the film, and the steps they take to provide culturally informed therapeutic treatment to their clients. Below, Aidee Mireles-Manna, Multi-Systemic Therapy Supervisor with One Hope United, shares her insights.

“The new Disney movie Encanto explores themes and topics that are present in many of our clients’ lives. Clients also see some of their own personality traits in the Encanto characters. For example, Mirabel is striving to keep her family whole; Isabela represents the perfectionist who feels she cannot fail; Luisa feels she must carry the weight of the family on her shoulders; Bruno is the family secret that must go unspoken; and Abuela is the matriarch who unknowingly passes down her trauma.  

The experiences these characters represent, from first-generation immigrants trying to keep their culture alive in a new country, to siblings and parents contending with a family member’s mental health problems or addiction, impact the lives of so many. As therapists, we feel we can help by serving as a bridge between Latino immigrant parents and their children. 

To help families identify triggers related to trauma, we start by helping parents learn how to use self-regulation and coping skills. We shift parents’ thoughts about what topics are “taboo.” Some adults do not want to talk about trauma, sexual abuse, or domestic violence; they may even believe they have to stay in a dangerous relationship to keep their family together. In cases like this, we educate adults about healthy relationships and self-esteem. We prepare them with safety planning and life skills, as well as the best way to approach conversations with their extended family to avoid blaming. Identifying past trauma is key to preventing future trauma. 

Another source of conflict for families is assimilating to a new country. Sometimes, parents are concerned their children will lose their identity or connection with their culture. I have also seen cases where children are embarrassed of parents’ traditions, and this is painful for parents. We want to bring peace to families, along with balance. We strive to help them build a future where parents feel comfortable adjusting to a new culture while preserving their own, and even creating new traditions unique to their own family. We also work to help family members understand what it is like in their loved one’s shoes. Children grow to understand the fears and stress their parents deal with every day, and we highlight the importance of open communication in a safe, healthy environment. 

We also help clients explore the role they play, and the emotional weight they carry, in their family. Children may believe they have to silence their needs, dreams, or goals so they will not be a burden. Immigrant parents often carry the need to “prove” it was worth it to leave their family in their home country by finding financial success in the U.S. We help each family member to identify a healthy and realistic balance. We also try to help parents understand that they do not need to be the “perfect” family or pretend everything is fine when times are tough – it is not weak to need help parenting or building a support system. 

Latino families are proud of being close to each other as one, big, happy group that celebrates birthdays and holidays together, so when families immigrate to the United States, they might feel incomplete without their extended family. Children also miss their extended family and may feel their parents “forced” them to leave their home country. In these cases, therapists focus on identifying the strengths of that specific family, and how they can use those strengths to thrive together in their new environment. 

Our efforts center around helping multi-generational families come to terms with the obstacles they face, so they can build a strong foundation for future generations.” 

Learn more about One Hope United’s Behavioral Health services.

 

 

Dually-Involved Youth Build Bright Futures at Hope House

Michael* first visited Hope House in October of 2020. Without this community home-based program, where only four teenage boys live and receive treatment at a time, he would have been forced to move to a locked down facility in Michigan. Still, Michael was skeptical about Hope House at first.

When Josie Bayona, Director of Programs at Hope House, visited Michael at the group home in which he was staying, he told her that he could not come to Hope House, because he was not interested in following their rules. Josie asked if he would come for just a visit, to have dinner together and meet the other youth. She would take him back to the group home in the morning if he wanted. 

Looking around at the three-story renovated home for the first time, Michael told Josie, “Someday, I want my kids to live in a house like this.” Dancing around, he confidently stated that he wanted to do what was right, so he could live somewhere similar when he grew up. 

Josie shared that she disagreed with previous youth care workers who thought Michael was impossible to work with. “My team is committed to making sure youth are heard, and receive opportunities, even though they are involved with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems,” she said. “We will hold them accountable for their behavior and choices, but they have the right to be heard like everyone else.

Josie went on to say, Hope House stands out among other programs because it utilizes an Enhanced Home-Based Placement Model. At Hope House, we provide intensive support with a trauma-informed approach. This is an innovative approach which allows us to make a greater impact for our youth.”

In choosing the first Hope House location, Sarah Tunning, Executive Director of Florida Programs, said she wanted to provide “a really comfortable home environment for the young men, first and foremost.” Sarah and her team got the keys to the first Hope House location in August, and since then, have painted the inside of the home a cheerful sky blue, and furnished the home with everything the boys could need. The youth at Hope House focus on independent living skills like improving academic performance, getting a part-time job, and opening a savings account. They also take trips to the beach on the weekend and go out for dinner together with house parents. 

Josie shared, “I want people to know that we’re a program within a program. Our home is not just a place where our boys eat and sleep. They participate in therapy and have access to a lot of services and support. It is not common to find a full-time therapist and nurse for a group home serving four boys, in addition to partnerships with external therapeutic agencies.” 

Josie went on to say, “It has been amazing to see the progress we have made in just one year. We are helping our community partners see that we are taking a new and innovative approach. Our funders are seeing the growth and change in our kids, and they are seeing that our model works. It is exciting to have conversations about expanding, so we can serve more kids.” 

Youth who come to Hope House may be used to getting what they want through intimidation or scare tactics. Jose said that once house parents and staff build relationships with the boys, and provide them with structure and consistency, they see the boys’ walls come down. “It might take a while for them to see it, but eventually the boys understand that we really are here for them,” Josie said. 

“The boys also trust that if I tell them something, I’m not lying to them,” Josie shared. “I promise each young man that I will do everything I can to set them up for success.” 

Liam* was placed at Hope House shortly after Michael. He experienced many obstacles, and as his drug use continued to worsen, he was hospitalized a few times. Josie helped Liam understand that in-patient drug treatment would be the right decision, but Liam feared he would be left at the drug treatment facility for months – something that had happened to him in the past. Josie promised Liam she would be there for him until his last day in treatment.  

Liam ran away to Texas for two weeks, and when he returned, Josie worked with judge to make sure he could stay at Hope House after completing treatment. “That night, when he was released to our custody with an electronic monitoring device, he told me ‘Miss Josie, I know you’re fighting for me.’ I told him that I couldn’t fight for him if he wouldn’t fight for himself,” Josie said. When she drove Liam to the treatment facility, she told him he would face more severe issues with the court if he ran again. He said, “Miss Josie, I won’t run as long as you’re there with me.” 

Six weeks later, Liam was released from the drug treatment center, and Josie was there waiting for him at discharge. He successfully completed probation and is currently attending an alternative school while living at Hope House.  

When Liam completed probation in October, he took a moment to reflect on his progress with Josie. In just one calendar year, Liam had completed drug treatment and probation, and was on the path to graduate from high school. 

Liam told Josie that he had not believed her when she told him he would soon be in a better place, but he believes it now. “He said he wants to keep in touch with me forever and wants me to meet his wife and children someday,” Josie said. “Liam’s is an amazing success story that has helped bring down the other boys’ walls. They see our commitment and they know we aren’t going anywhere.” 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

 

 

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