September 17, 2014

The other side

I am sure that we have students who come from difficult home lives or have tough life experiences.  However, we can assume that most of our students have comfortable lives, supportive parents, and will go off to college and have wonderful futures.  Today I met four young adults who never had the love and support that most of our students have and thus have experienced homelessness, drug abuse, abusive parents, etc.  

One of our parents, Debbie Smith P'16 works at Child and Family Services here in Manchester and invited me down for a tour and to meet some of the young people they serve.  Child and Family Services is the oldest non-profit agency in the state of New Hampshire and was originally founded to aid the children who worked in the mills here in Manchester.  Now located on Hanover Street, they assist children and young adults aged 12-22 with a variety of services - drop in hours, job skills, life skills, a food pantry, clothing, laundry, showers, support, athletic opportunities, etc.  

We were shown around the facility by Erin Kelly who is the program director there and after we met four young men and women - two women and two men.  They were all in their late teens or early 20's and the stories were heartbreaking.  I don't want to betray their confidences but sharing too much but three were from surrounding communities and one moved to the area a few years ago.  The two women are pregnant and came from horrible home lives.  One of the women was almost forced into prostitution by her mother's boyfriend and the other lived in a home that was incredibly strict and overbearing.  Both of the men are recovering drug addicts and had experienced homelessness (one actually still lives outside as he can't stand to be inside for too long).  What struck me the most is that most of these adults came from seemingly normal homes but the parents had a negative influence on them in some way.  As the father of three, it helped me remember the importance of loving and caring your children and letting them know over and over again that they are loved and valued.  The folks at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia tell us that many of the people they serve are the way they are because no one loved them.  

After the young people left, we had a nice conversation about the ways we can help.  I talked about our Cardboard City event and another man who was on the tour offered to donate to it!  I said we could help the agency with donations for their food pantry or of clothing and maybe help with Cardboard City donations (although we give those proceeds to New Horizons).

My hope is to bring some students down there next month for a tour and to meet the young people in advance of Cardboard City.  It's important our students know that homelessness is not just something that happens to adults - Child and Family Services assists over 1,000 homeless young people every year.  They estimate that 250-300 children don't have a secure or stable place to sleep every night in Manchester, be in on a couch somewhere, a hotel, shelter, etc.  

Please pray for these children, their parents, and the good people of Child and Family Services.

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