Our youth participant, Madelyn, started our Transitional Living Program (TLP) and moved in with her host family over a year ago, but her story continues to inspire. At sixteen, she arrived from Guatemala to live with her cousin, who initially supported her, while studying here. After two years, her cousin moved to New York and left Madelyn behind. Madelyn could not speak English, had no source of income, and desperately lacked the resources to survive. Her remaining connection was her case manager, or promotor, at Latin American Youth Center (LAYC).
Regardless of circumstance, Madelyn’s promotor was consistently present in her life. It was her promotor who connected Madelyn to the Transitional Living Program. Her promotor was her guide in the daily uncertainty that she, and many like her, experienced during this tumultuous season of her life.
Unfortunately, prior to beginning this journey in the TLP, Madelyn contracted COVID-19. This hiccup delayed her transition into stable housing. For Madelyn, the primary concern was the safety of her host parents, and so, she stayed put. Although her living circumstances lacked the basic needs all our youth members have the right to, Madelyn persevered. Her LAYC promotor and TLP case manager assured, that regardless of the barrier that COVID imposed on Madelyn’s transition, she would not lack her necessities anymore. Her case manager and promotor delivered COVID antigen tests. When it was determined that Madelyn needed an extensive follow up with a physician, it was her team that guided her, over the phone, to safely travel to her doctor’s office, manage to communicate with the health care staff, and return home. To Madelyn and her team, this was a victory.
Shortly after her accomplishment, Madelyn’s COVID results came back negative, and she could move in with her host family. After a short week within TLP, Madelyn started attending a new school.
Today, her challenges are learning how to send emails and navigating the metro. But with her resiliency, we know she will overcome these hurdles in no time. She is always ready to take on the next challenge. Madelyn has now been a member of the LAYC family for eighteen months. Her upcoming goals are now to complete her vocational training program in construction, acquire health insurance, open her own bank account, and learn how to lay the foundation for her future.
In the last meeting with her case manager, Madelyn reported that she made a friend, someone with whom she can talk about life. Every morning she sends her case manager a text message, just a few lines in English to practice.
Madelyn’s story shows how the Transitional Living Program can support youth in critical situations, but more importantly about a young person’s strengths to move forward if offered opportunities.
LAYC runs a safe housing Drop-In Center that serves as a convenient, youth-friendly, and LGBTQ+ safe space for runaway, unstably housed, street, and homeless youth under 24. At the Drop-In Center, youth like CC can receive essential care services, assessment, referrals to housing, crisis intervention, case management, and family intervention. The center often serves homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or have been subjected to or are at risk of being subjected to trafficking, sexual abuse, exploitation, and prostitution. All Drop-In Center staff are trained in LGBTQ+ allyship, and our assessment and intake process allow for optional disclosure of gender identity and sexual orientation. Additionally, LAYC offers a free clothing “shop” for youth, Hope’s Closet, which provides gender-affirming undergarments and clothing for transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming youth.
SETTING CC FOR SUCCESS
CC is a young Salvadorian gay man who LAYC has helped. LAYC has a long-standing commitment to developing Latino youth leadership, supporting both youth and staff in their growth as advocates and change-makers in their community. LAYC recognizes the importance of creating dynamic and creative thinkers to shape our communities and bring about sustainable change that benefits Latino communities, including the LGBTQ+ community and other immigrant communities or communities of color.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, LAYC helped CC set up a meeting with the Salvadoran consulate to retrieve his birth certificate. During this time, he was also able to get his Social Security card and legal work permit. Staff helped CC obtain a job at a small restaurant and find an apartment. He received rental assistance through LAYC to achieve stable housing, as well as through the DC CARES Assistance program. Recently, he got a general ID and is studying to take his driver’s exam. LAYC provided him with study materials in Spanish to facilitate the process. In addition, staff helped him open a bank account, and CC is responsibly beginning to save.
LAYC was able to provide CC with resources for his father’s funeral service and connect him to DC’s COVID-19 mental health services. With his father’s death and the loss of family members due to gang violence in El Salvador, CC has sadly experienced many losses. Therefore, connecting him to mental health professionals was crucial to his well-being.
CC acknowledged that it meant a lot to him when staff came together to provide him with resources, including blankets, household items, candles, clothes, gift certificates, and Uber gift cards. Through all the hardship of the past year, and by bravely living his truth as an openly gay immigrant from El Salvador, CC has shown incredible strength. He is determined and persevering, and with assistance from LAYC, CC is on track to becoming a fully independent adult.
As the new school year begins and schools transition back to in-person learning, LAYC will continue to provide youth essential tools and support to cultivate learning and creativity to maximize their academic success.
Homeless and unstably housed youth are still working on getting back on track due to the pandemic and, as one LAYC housing client demonstrates below, facing homelessness makes it particularly challenging to stay on track in school.
Our Housing team works alongside youth every day who, despite multiple barriers to educational success, posess the aptitude and tremendous drive needed to succeed in school. With your support, we are able to provide stable housing, individualized support, and opportunities that make a difference in young person's academic journey.
"A home is a place where there is a sanctuary, security, a place where we can rest, relax, enjoy time with loved ones...learn, grow, and just be. LAYC’s Hope’s House program gave us the belonging of what it means to have a home. Education is very important in one's life but, without a home, education becomes hard. Our case manager, Mr. Marco, showed so much care for us and supported us. Hope’s House gave us many opportunities that greatly helped us and our case manager Mr. Marco would always tell us about the many opportunities for students our age.
The program gave us security and made us feel safe. With Mr. Marco, we were able to get health insurance, which helped us. After school, when I needed to print or do projects for school, I was never worried or scared that I would never be able to get my work turned in because, in the program, they had computers that always enabled me to do my school assignments. No matter what background you come from, or shape, or race you are, the Hope’s House program makes you feel welcomed. Most of all, it provides us with a centering—a place from which we leave each morning and to which we return each evening."
Thank you for supporting homeless youth and their education and making stories like these possible.
LAYC President and CEO
Since March, 2020, Latin American Youth Center staff have been determined to continue providing services to all of our participants, including our unstably housed clients, despite unforeseen hurdles like decreased opportunities to reach them and connect them to the city's services and resources.
Additionally, we have been faced with the specific challenge to curate and establish safety measures to keep clients and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our staff have observed first-hand the disadvantage among communities of color in terms of understanding how to access the vaccine, in addition to widespread apprehension about taking the vaccine within these communities. During the pandemic, LAYC’s Health Promotions and Community Wellness teams have been instrumental in educating youth, families, and our staff about the virus and vaccine.
This effort includes the following strategies:
These efforts would not be possible without our local community partners and your support.
Thank you for your commitment to the safety and well-being of our youth!
LAYC President and CEO
I am truly grateful for and humbled by the incredible support our local and global community has shown for our youth during this challenging year. Over the past nine months, we have seen the best of ourselves in people who have willingly given monetary support, as well as their time and words of encouragement.
The work this past year has been a tremendous lift for our staff, who understood that we could not be unresponsive during this crisis. "We don't like to wait around for someone else to do the work. We are going to find a way to get it done." - LAYC staff member.
It has been humbling to learn how our youth and community have been impacted by COVID-19. For example, up to 70% of homeless youth served by LAYC lost their jobs during the pandemic, hundreds of families were unable to afford rent, and thousands of clients could not meet their basic needs.
Our work has been motivated by our belief that we must hold onto hope and a strong sense of community; one of our most important roles in the lives of young people is to give them hope and assurance that they do not have to face challenges and crises alone.
We would not have been able to keep moving forward this year without the support of our community. This means every donor and volunteer who has enabled us to provide much-needed services and meet immediate needs that have exceeded anything we have seen before.
Together we have persevered, stood by our communities, and given them hope.
Thank you for your support, for caring, and for being part of our LAYC community.
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