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.