When Glenda graduated from North Shore Community College with an associate’s degree at age 22, she wanted to continue her education. Her mother disapproved and told her she had to work full time.
“She said, ‘Stop with that college nonsense,’ ” said the Lynn native, who asked that her last name not be used. “If I wouldn’t stop, she would throw me out of her house.”
When Glenda hurt her back and couldn’t work, she said, her mother viewed her “as a damaged human being” and began abusing her emotionally.
“My whole world turned upside down,” Glenda said. “I needed to leave. So I looked for help.”
She found none.
In Massachusetts, state services are available for families and for children. But once teens turn 18, they are considered adults and are ineligible for those services.
Glenda then heard of Journeys of Hope. Based in Salem, the nonprofit is filling the gap by serving homeless, and those at-risk of becoming homeless, between ages 18 and 23.
Glenda was sharing her story during an assembly at Beverly High School, organized by five members of Distributive Education Club of America, a network that helps prepare students in high schools and colleges to become leaders in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. The Beverly group has chosen Journeys of Hope as its community service project.
“It was the fact that these are our peers, they are our age,” said Haley Albert, one of the student organizers. “It’s heartbreaking that it’s kids and they don’t want [homelessness] to happen to them, but they can’t help it or do anything about it.
“To have a place like Journeys of Hope to be there for them is amazing, and we are trying to step up and help.”
According to Journeys of Hope, it is estimated there are about 990 homeless teens and young adults living in communities north of Boston.
That includes adolescents who are living on the street; “couch surfing” from house to house; recently discharged from foster care; estranged from family or living in unsafe home situations; or living in shelters.
Susan Hauck, executive director of Journeys of Hope, believes the number is much higher. “It’s hard to count young adults,” she said. “They don’t identify themselves as homeless.”
Journeys of Hope’s mission is to reach them and help them move toward a more stable life.
It has a center at the First Universalist Society of Salem, where young people can gather, play cards and video games, use computers, and have a meal. They can pick up necessities such as toothbrushes and toiletries, and gift cards for transportation, food, laundry, and other urgent needs.
They also get help with tasks such as getting an identification card; navigating the legal system; connecting with social service agencies; finding health and mental health care; returning to school; or finding transitional housing.
“Every little thing we help them with takes off the pressure so they can focus on their next goal,” said Felix Colon, outreach coordinator and case manager for Journeys of Hope.
Each Friday, there are informal group discussions on a variety of issues, from healthy ways to deal with stress or conflict, and how to boost self-esteem.
“It’s important for young people to be heard,” Colon said. “And at Journeys of Hope we do a lot of listening. And, they get that glimmer of hope, just because they are being listened to, never mind the food and clothes.”
Colon does street outreach one day and one night a week, mostly in Salem and Lynn. He offers sandwiches, water and juice, socks and underwear, and gift cards to drug stores and fast food restaurants. The aim is to reach the kids and build awareness of what Journeys of Hope can offer.
“It takes a lot of time to get them through the front door. They’re reluctant,” Colon said.
Glenda said the first time she called Journeys of Hope, she spoke with Hauck, the executive director.
“She sounded so nice and I felt like she already cared about me, without even meeting me.”
Journeys found someone to treat Glenda’s back pain and connected her with a therapist. “They encouraged me to go back to school and finish what I started. They gave me so much motivation I was no longer scared to go for it,” she said.
Now 23, Glenda is a student in the social work program at Salem State University and living in a dorm on campus.
Following the assembly, many Beverly students in DECA said they had been unaware of youth homelessness and the mission of Journeys of Hope.
It prompted them to organize several events, including a Thanksgiving meal last Monday; a Your Change Creates Our Change drive at the Thanksgiving Day football game against Salem; A Week of Hope earlier this month to collect clothing and gift cards; and a float in Sunday’s Beverly Holiday Parade to promote donations of clothing, food, and other items.
“It got a message across,” said senior Tara Portele of the presentation. “Glenda was really powerful and she got me wanting to get more involved helping people like her.”
“I was surprised by the numbers, especially in the areas so close to us,’’ said Hayley Finik, a junior. “I didn’t think something like that could happen.”
“There are probably a lot of young homeless people in our school, but they don’t look different. And, they are so hurt they can’t open up to anyone, so no one knows,” said senior Phoebe Blau.
Glenda had some advice: “If you are ever in a situation where you feel like I felt, or you know someone who is struggling, you should know you are never alone. There is always someone out there ready to help you.”