February 28, 2018

On today's show we take you on a visit to The Center for Children and Young Adults, a wonderful nonprofit in Marietta, Georgia. 

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the United States still struggles with high levels of poverty, especially among children and youth. While estimates vary, it is believed that from 1.7 to 1.9 million youth and children in the United States experienced at least one night of homelessness last year. It is estimated that 530,000 of these children were homeless for over a week.

Studies reveal that 1 in 5 children in the United States will run away from home at least once. The most cited reason is physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse from parents or guardians. A large number of homeless children and youth come from foster care or the juvenile justice system, and, after aging out of the system, lack the education, skills, and guidance to live independently and secure housing and an income.

Child trafficking and substance abuse are two of the most dangerous consequences of homelessness. 

Every year, at least 20,000 kids are forced into prostitution by human trafficking networks.   A study released by researchers at University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University last year reported that 19.4 percent of homeless youth have been the victims of human trafficking – 15 percent trafficked for sex, 7.4 percent trafficked for labor, and 3 percent trafficked for both. 

These youth are forgotten by society, but they are walking prey to traffickers. They are young and vulnerable. The vulnerability children experience when they are alone, hungry and without shelter on the streets makes them particularly susceptible to trafficking.

Many unaccompanied youth turn to substances to help deal with the stress and desperation caused by unstable living arrangements.  About 80% of homeless youth (aged 12-21) use drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate to deal with the traumatic experiences and abuse they face.

This brings us to today's charity...

Established in 1981, The Center for Children & Young Adults (CCYA) is dedicated to providing a safe and nurturing environment with comprehensive services for homeless youth and young adults who have been abused, abandoned, neglected, or are at risk.

Their three-building campus offers four residential programs in a dormitory setting for up to 39 youth at one time in need of shelter, treatment, care and guidance. 

Their Farm To Table initiative yields over 750 pounds of produce annually from their campus garden.  This program is called Blooming With Possibilities. They also partner with the UGA and other volunteers to deliver weekly cooking classes.

In 2010, CCYA shifted from a “shelter” model to a “youth development” model employing a Trauma Informed Care Approach. They are redefining residential care for at risk youth in the community by programs that help youth overcome their childhood maltreatment, expose them to new opportunities, learn and practice life skills, and achieve goals they once never dreamed possible.

We had the chance to tour the facility and talk with Kimberly Tinsley, Director of Volunteer Services/Youth Activities & Social Media.

Amy and Emma Bushman
Amy and Emma Bushman

On today's Hero of the Week segment we look back at twins Amy and Emma Bushman.  

They began helping out at a local homeless shelter at the age of four. Their volunteer work began with collecting items for the shelter at the twins’ birthday party each year. Once the items were gathered, they delivered them to the shelter and prepared a homemade pancake breakfast for the families. While they always enjoyed working together in the kitchen, it saddened them to see the shelter children standing in the doorway watching (for safety reasons, the shelter children were never allowed to enter the kitchen).

 At the age of seven, after viewing a TV special on child entrepreneurs and attending a cooking camp with mom Alison, they knew that family cooking time was a bonding experience they wanted shelter families to be able to have and that they would use their entrepreneurial skills to make it possible. Thus began BakeMeHome, a charity designed to give departing shelter families a tote bag containing a mason jar filled with a special oatmeal cookie mix, cooking utensils, a grocery store gift card (for perishable ingredients), and a toothbrush and toothpaste, so that families could inaugurate their new home (and life) by making cookies together. 

Since that day in 2008, BakeMeHome has expanded to include programs for local food pantries, kids in foster care, members of the military (including veterans), and other services. Kids as young as four years old are encouraged to volunteer at BakeMeHome, for the twins are as dedicated to promoting volunteerism, especially in kids, as they are to using cookies (and baking) to heal.