Omaha Writer Danielle Herzog is helping raise awareness and funds for an important cause, Youth Emergency Services. She’s doing this by writing (of course), and DANCING! Herzog is kicking up her heels and learning moves to compete in Dance for a Chance on July 29. By voting, Dance for a Chance raises money for Youth Emergency Services. Votes are $5 each.
A little background about YES. . .
Youth Emergency Services (YES) was founded in 1974 by a group of community volunteers who noticed homeless youth hanging around in Omaha’s Old Market district. At first, YES was led strictly by volunteers — they invited youth in crisis to stay in their homes. One morning, a volunteer woke to her kitchen cabinets being painted green, and the volunteers decided it was time to invest in a home, which became known as the YES house. The YES house (known today as the Emergency Shelter) has been serving youth in crisis for nearly 40 years. As the organization and the need to serve homeless and at-risk youth has grown, so have YES’ programs.
In addition to the shelter, YES has a street outreach program which helps homeless and runaway youth. YES also launched its Transitional Living Program (TLP) and Maternity Home in 2008. These programs help youth in crisis learn the life skills necessary to become independent and self-sufficient. In 2012, YES expanded its Mentoring Program to create a partnership with Early Childhood Services, which serves teens and young parents.
In the past decade, YES has helped more than 5,800 youth escape a crisis situation. YES assisted more than 1,000 homeless and at-risk youth in 2012-13 alone. YES is the only organization in Omaha that focuses directly on helping runaway and homeless youth turn their lives around in a positive direction.
It’s easy to say that YES is an amazing cause, but until you put a face with a homeless teen or a teen parent, it’s hard to see the impact of these resources. That’s why Herzog decided to interview Kayla, a teen mother coming off a year of being homeless. She credits her survival to her teachers and YES. Here is Kayla’s story as told be Herzog.
I put my hand gently on top of hers and told that for the third time that she didn’t need to call me “ma’am”. Sitting at the picnic table in the backyard of the Youth Emergency Service’s maternity home, we were equals. Both mothers of two children struggling to balance family, work and school in each of our lives. However, the difference was I was 41 years old with a husband and living in suburbia and she was 18, raising a toddler and newborn alone and coming off a year of being homeless.
The truth was, we had nothing in common.
Nothing except motherhood.
And even that looked different from each of our eyes.
I had the chance to interview Kayla last week because I wanted to know more about how YES helped her and what homelessness really looked like. I wanted to put a face to the sad statistics that are out there about the growing rate of homeless youth.
Kayla has seen things that I couldn’t even imagine. She’s bounced from house to house, fallen for the wrong type of guy twice, and slept on the steps of a church with a newborn baby. And as she tells me her story of her difficult Alabama upbringing, I’m in awe of what she’s survived. Not just survived but thrived from having gone through.
And she credits two things to her new-found strength. The first are two teachers from Bellevue West who took her in when she needed it most. And the second is Youth Emergency Services for giving her the chance to be independent by letting her live at their maternity house and teaching her how to become the mother she works every day to be.
But to me, she’s already an amazing mother. She lights up when she talks about her children. How she is bound and determined to give them a childhood so different from her own. And how she will finish high school next year and plans to join the Air Force. She lives to show them a woman who works hard to finish a goal.
She doesn’t go on dates. Doesn’t meet up at the movies with friends or go out shopping with girlfriends. She doesn’t have a babysitter on speed dial or a mommy group she can lean on. She probably won’t go to prom or participate in after-school clubs. The truth is, she spends all of her time either with her children, working or doing schoolwork.
And she has regrets. Many.
But her children aren’t one.
And luckily, Youth Emergency Services (YES) understands that. They never judged. Never lectured. Never told her that she was wrong. They opened their arms to her and gave her a home. A home with rules, chores and responsibilities, but most importantly, support. A great deal of support. Exactly what a home should have.
I chose to interview Kayla because I’m part of YES’s Dance for a Chance event this year. I’m paired with a dance teacher to learn a routine that is performed the night of the event. It’s similar to Dancing with the Stars but I am definitely no star and quite certain my awkward movements can hardly count as dancing. But I’m doing it because every single dime raised goes to homeless youth right here in our community. Not just pregnant or teen mothers, but all homeless youth.
We all say we wish we could help in our community, don’t we? But children, activities, work and life in general always seems to take over.
So here’s what I’m asking. Stop for a second and look around at your life. Looks pretty good, right? Looks safe and happy?
Now imagine all of that suddenly gone. No beautiful yard. No food on the table. No loved one asking you how your day was.
And now imagine all of that as a scared teenager.
You have the power to help a terrified, scared teen get a chance to feel that same safe feeling you have. YES is raising money for its programs by “voting” for different dancers for this year’s event. I don’t care who you vote for (though, heck, I wouldn’t mind if you picked me!) but I just ask that you vote. Votes are $5 each and it can all be done online.
Homelessness isn’t something happening to other people. It’s happening in our communities. On the streets we drive every day. As a parent, I want to scoop all those terrified teens up in my arms and give each and every one of them a chance. Don’t you too? If we can’t be their parent, let’s at least be their advocate.