Three teenagers were lounging on a couple of couches while half dozen others huddled around a TV set, remotes in hand, playing a video game. Two of the older teens talked about when they were going to see The Hunger Games, a new movie based on the popular book series that they had read.
It could have been any family room in America. But it was Promise House, an ACF-supported shelter for homeless and runaway youth in Dallas, Texas. With a few of my ACF colleagues, I visited Promise House yesterday, met the young people who lived there and the inspirational staff who see to their care.
Promise House gives these at-risk teens individualized support, encouragement and hope to live a better life. Under the leadership of Dr. Harriet Boorhem, the president of Promise House, staff work to provide a safe place for these kids to call home.
Last year, they served more than 7,300 teens and family members—a big jump from the 3,000 per year that they served just 10 years ago. While that increase is partly a testimony to the effectiveness of the program, Boorhem says it also a result of a bad economy, a critical mass of kids aging out of foster care, and a rise teens who are victims of human trafficking.
Promise House runs nine distinct programs. From medical, dental and psychiatric care, to scholarship funds and parenting programs, Promise House has grown based on the needs of the youth they serve.
Boorhem led us through the main shelter, showing us bedrooms shared by three boys – all nicely decorated and neatly kept with every bed made. (Now that you won’t find in a typical American home!) Then we went two doors down to Wesley Inn, a large frame home where homeless pregnant teens and their children work to build a better future.
The young people are anxious to interact with us and talk about the future they have in mind for themselves and their children. Their mantra: finish high school and start college.
These young people face enormous challenges. They have, by and large, been let down by the adults in their lives. But at Promise House, another group of adults is stepping in to pick up the slack. And it makes a difference.
When you meet a 14-year-old boy with no parents, or a 16-year-old girl with a newborn baby, the challenges can look heartbreakingly insurmountable. But when you talk to the staff at Promise House, you hear hope in the many stories they tell of the young people who have succeeded.
The staff know their efforts help these children fulfill their promise, and I’m proud that the Administration for Children and Families plays a small part in helping them do that.