Alison Pogorelz

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

PogorelzInternVII0513Alison Pogorelz will never look at Italian sodas the same way again.

The 23 year-old Psychology senior at Colorado Mesa University (CMU) is leaning on the counter inside The House, perusing through the memory of her digital camera. She finally lands on the photo she was looking for.

“Oh, there it is!” she exclaims as she turns her camera around to reveal the image to the rest of us in the room. Two hands grasping two glasses of Italian sodas, one hand hers and the other hand that of a former resident of The House that she is now mentoring as part of an internship she is doing through The House.

Pogorelz, a native of Fort Morgan, Colorado, has been volunteering at The House since January to fulfill her practicum requirement in the Colorado Mesa Counseling Psychology program.

PogorelzInternIX0513“A practicum is an internship where you go out and get hands-on experience,” said Pogorelz. “It’s required in order to graduate.”

Pogorelz is the very first Colorado Mesa intern at The House. In order to fulfill the requirement, Pogorelz needs to accumulate 180 hours at the institution she volunteers at, which, so far, has not been much of a problem.

“I’m almost a whole month ahead of my 180 hours than most of the other people in my major,” she said. “That’s kind of a sign that you’ve found your place.”

Pogorelz could not have asked for any better place to fulfill her internship.

“It just fits my personality,” she said. “I’m able to be who I am and voice my opinions. I want to work with teens, and I think the kids have made it so unique that it fits. The open family communication helps me be myself. Everyone’s opinion is heard and it’s just an open, welcoming environment.”

Pogorelz is striving to become a therapist, specializing in women and younger people and how they relate to issues such as self-esteem, self-image, and bullying.

“You definitely have to have the heart to work with teens and the right personality to make a difference in somebody else’s life,” said Pogorelz. “If you ask me to sell something, I would not be able to do it, but if you ask me to help someone improve or help someone toward a goal, that’s where my heart is.”

An environment such as The House, according to Pogorelz, has been a breeding ground for growth in the areas she strives to excel in.

“It’s been very easy to pursue my goals,” she said, “because The House is very open and welcoming. I was really surprised; I’ve never been in such a community that feels like family like this one is. Everybody’s here for the right reason: to help improve someone else’s life.”

PogorelzInternV0513Pogorelz’ role at The House is a multi-faceted one. She receives significant exposure to the professional side – a participator in the steering committee meetings, the staffing of the kids, and interaction with John Mok-Lamme, the Executive Director, and Ashley Elliott, the Case Manager. But she is also heavily involved in the lives of the teens – working shifts at The House, as well as her role as a mentor.

“I wanted to become part of the mentor program from the get-go,” she said. “Its’ a far-fetched goal, because you can’t really force a relationship with a teen after he or she has left The House. But fortunately, I found this awesome teen, and we really click together.”

For nearly three months, Alison has been spending significant time with this teen.

“We go get Italian sodas all the time,” she said, “we go the movies, we go to the mall, we talk about boys. It’s very rewarding.”

Because most of the teens that enter The House are minors, the staff at The House makes every effort to protect their identity, including avoiding photos of the teens’ faces. For this reason, Pogorelz saves photos of, for instance, her hand and the teen’s hand grasping Italian sodas, or of her feet and the teen’s feet dangling off a chair. They’re the closest portraits she can capture of the teen that’s changed her life.

“We just understand each other,” she said. “I just want everyone I mentor to feel supported and have someone in their life that they feel safe to talk to. And without judgment, which I think is very challenging for some of these people, just because they’ve been hurt so much, and they soon lose all ability to trust.”

Pogorelz now enlarges the photo of her and the teen grasping their soda to show the rest of us. On the bottom of the photo, Pogorelz had inserted a text, which read: “Lasting relationships begin with one Italian soda at a time!”

PogorelzInternXII0513“Just to be a positive role model is at the heart of me,” Pogorelz said. “I can learn all the mental health language I want, but that won’t do me any good if I’m not a positive role model for the teens.”

Needless to say, the “positive role modeling” has gone in both directions.

“It’s definitely changed my life,” said Pogorelz. “That’s another thing I’ve learned is that it’s really easy to attach yourself to others. And it’s really easy to have really high expectations for them, and when they don’t reach them, it’s very difficult. But I wouldn’t change any of this for the world.”

Just recently, Pogorelz helped the teen prepare for her senior prom. Pogorelz helped her put her dress on and drove her to her date’s house.

“She was so nervous she actually asked me to walk to the door with her,” Pogorelz said.

Pogorelz intends on volunteering at The House long after she graduates from CMU in May. Her mentoring role will continue, with this current teen and who knows how many other teens.

“We’re the first family that some of these kids have,” she said. “A lot of these kids are working as hard as they can to make something of themselves. But a lot of the time we’re the first real connection that they’ve had.”

And Pogorelz will see to it that those connections continue. One soda at a time.

Darin Carei


Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

Darin Carei arrives in the conference room, having come straight from another appointment for his work. We meet inside the offices of Synergy Builders, a construction company, one of three entities that exist under Energywise Companies, of which Carei is President.

“I have an appointment at five,” he says as he sits down. Finding an hour to squeeze into his day to allow me to interview him is no easy task.

As well as being president of Energywise, a business that focuses on building and equipping environmentally efficient homes throughout the Grand Valley, Carei is also co-founder and Board President of Karis, Inc., the nonprofit organization that brought about The House. His wife and three children also grasp for his time.

“You hopefully find some semblance of balance in all this,” said Carei, who has been the Energywise president since 2008.

“I’m still searching for that balance,” he says with a grin.

Carei settles into his chair, bracing himself for a barrage of questions he’s probably already heard, having to clear his mind of everything else he needs to do that day just to give honest answers. Maybe, if anything, this is a break for him.

Businessman. President. Co-founder. Family man. Yet without his efforts, odds are good we wouldn’t be talking about any “safe place for western-slope teens.” Carei and John Mok-Lamme, the Executive Director of Karis, Inc., were first exposed to the teen homeless situation in the Grand Valley while at a community meeting for homelessness.

“We both realized that one of the identified gaps to be filled was the homeless teen population that had nowhere to go,” said Carei. “And we were small enough and cocky enough to think that we could take it on.”

There were only two men that, from the very beginning, were the catalysts for the place we now call The House, and one was sitting across the table from me, wearing his Synergy Builders apparel and a 26 year-old wedding ring. Not really so different from any other businessman you’d see walking down the street.

“We pulled the slingshot back, and others grabbed on,” he said. No big deal.

“I don’t know,” he continued, “if we are all prompted to do things by influences, spoken or unspoken, but I think those who helped bring The House to where it is today, many were moved, I think, by a greater purpose than our own. I think it was only by virtue of that purpose that we were able to do what we did with what little we had to do it with.”

Carei pauses, taking another glance at his watch. Appointments were waiting.

“Because most everybody involved got nothing from a personal gain.”

And it is because of that, according to Carei, that change is going to occur in the lives of these teens.

“If our teens can get to the point,” he said, “that they realize that this is a giving of ourselves and our resources because we care about them on a higher level, then maybe they’ll care about themselves and The House on a higher level.”

Carei is adamant that without the selfless commitments of those involved, whatever gifts or talents that may have been brought to the table would have been irrelevant.

“This was a coordinated effort of like-minded individuals with different gifts and talents,” he said, “but if the volunteers and the staff and the board and the people involved had thought, ‘What’s the minimum I can do?’ then The House wouldn’t be there. If we can instill in these teens that they can approach The House, and life, in the same way, it would be awesome.”

No easy thing to do, to be sure.

“So the way you create that in these teens,” said Carei, “is by placing it before them that we bring this to the table because we want to. Not because we have to.”

Someone like Darin Carei, who continues to strive for the balance of everything vying for his attention in his life, perhaps is only the first in a long line of people that, far more than gifts or talents or resources, offered to The House in amazing simplicity the gift of themselves. Their time. Their lives.

“If anyone bears the brunt of all the activities that I do, it’d be her,” said Carei, referring to his wife, Tamara. “But she understands. She understands who I am from an entrepreneurial standpoint; the good, the bad, and the indifferent. We knew when we met, and it’s worked ever since. We’ve been together a long time, and she’ll continue to be there.”

Carei emphasized that the vast majority of the people that have poured themselves into The House in some way have done so on a volunteer basis.

“I think we have the infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve got people that have offered themselves to this, and we’ve accomplished our short-term goals of making it a place to call home, a place to regroup and move forward. We would love to see that sense of ownership and responsibility that has teens doing things around The House with an attitude of, ‘What can I do for The House?’ instead of, ‘What do I have to do for The House?’ And the way they get to that point where they’re doing things in that way is by seeing that that’s how we have poured ourselves into them.”

Freedom isn’t free, as the saying goes. For every teen that finds some kind of deliverance through The House, there is perhaps at least one regular businessman, like Carei, who gave some part of himself toward the cause. Because he wanted to.

“To do that, I think you just build an environment that brings out the best in people,” said Carei. “A place that’s comfortable, secure, welcoming, loving, understanding. And I think that we’ve done the best we can do to do that.”

To learn more about The House and what you can do to help, please visit www.thehousegj.org.

Elliott Stites

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

Aaron Stites and Ashley Elliott sat side-by-side on one of the couches in The House living room, small stacks of paper lying nearby as residents of The House passed by on their way to the kitchen. Stites’ and Elliott’s life and jobs surrounded them; realistically, they didn’t have time for an interview, but they took the time for me.

“What’s the goal of The House?” was a question I was eager to ask them, because whatever the goals of The House are, they will go right through the pair sitting across from me.

Stites’ and Elliott’s stories read almost like two mirrors reflecting each other. Both grew up in Grand Junction and went to Fruita Monument High School. Both graduated from Colorado Mesa University. Both spent significant time working among teens and other young people in unstable situations. And now, both of them are essentially the one-two punch for The House, Stites serving as Program Coordinator and Elliott as Case Manager, positions they’ve held for nearly two months now.

“Each kid represents The House’s goal,” answered Stites, confidently. “The goal is tailored to each kiddo’s diverse situation.”

This response typifies the approach Stites and Elliott take toward their kids at The House, an approach begun and groomed by Stites’ experience in an education program in Nicaragua and Elliott’s experience as Senior Case Manager for Mesa County Child Protection Services, positions the two of them held prior to joining The House.

“I really enjoy working with people and helping people toward their goal, whatever that is,” said Elliott. “I really found my niche with teenagers. They want to learn, they want to grow, they are willing to try new things. They are really challenging too, which is why I really enjoy working with them.”

“I feel like I grew up in a bubble – good family, good home,” added Stites. “And then I heard about this homelessness. I saw the numbers and was shocked at how big the problem was and how little it was being addressed.”

That bubble has been popped, according to Stites.

“Just being part of a program that addresses this very real problem drew me in,” said Stites. “We hear about kids that are digging holes by the river; it’s hard to fathom. I don’t know how I would have ever dealt with it if I had to go through what they go through..”

“It’s a different philosophy here on working with kids, which I was very excited to be a part of,” said Elliott. “It’s not the punitive, ‘You’re bad, you’ve done wrong,’ it was, ‘Yep, that is your life, let’s take you as you are and move forward.’ I tell that to all the kids: ‘Once you’re my kid, you’re always my kid.’ And they definitely feel that around here.”

“When I first applied I wanted to be a part of The House no matter what it was,” added Stites. “What’s been really neat is seeing just how this community has coalesced around this cause. And I really don’t believe that that would happen in any other community.”

For months, Stites and Elliott heard all about the numbers representing the homeless teens in Mesa County. Putting faces to those statistics has sent ripple effects through both of them.

“I am so shocked at the diversity of kids walking through the door,” said Elliott. “Everything from very young ones running away from parents all the way to graduated and trying to go to college. They have the future all planned out, but they need the help to get to that next step. The variety here has been amazing, which is very challenging in my position, because it’s not anything cookie-cutter at all, you have to think outside the box with every single kid.”

“I anticipated that maybe we would see kiddos come in that were completely broken and with a sense of hopelessness,” added Stites. “And while there may be elements of that, overall they do have a lot of hope and a lot of goals and they haven’t nearly given up. And it can get busy around here and I get stressed out, but you always have to think about what they’ve been through and how we can best help them out. That’s got to be the root of everything.”

Stites and Elliott started this race needing to clear a few hurdles, and having cleared those hurdles early on has prepared them for the ones they know are coming.

“There were times when we were really struggling just to get the license for this place,” said Stites. “And those were hard days. But recently we’ve been hearing kiddos say, ‘I feel really safe here,’ and, ‘The House is a beacon of good,’ and I don’t think that’s lip service; I think those are just some examples of the sentiments that we’re starting to hear. And early on in the program, that’s all you could ask for. That’s what gets us through the tough days.”

The doorbell to The House then goes off, a rapid-fire succession of rings, and Stites just smiles.

“That’s one of our kids,” he said. “He always rings the doorbell like that.”

Stites lets the young man inside, and as he makes his way to the kitchen, Elliott locks her eyes onto mine.

“Right there,” pointing at him, “is a perfect example of the need for safety at this place. That kid was having hallucinations, delusions, very severe mental health issues, and it’s been days since he’s had any of those experiences. Above all, this place provides a safe place where kids can have an environment where no one’s going to hurt you. But I also think it meets that need we all have as humans, to connect with people and have that deeper layer of relationship, to get connected into a community. And that’s what drew me here.”

Elliott continues.

“I think we went from an idea, this big dream on May 1, to now; it’s actually going, it’s running, and it’s working.”

She pauses, glancing at the young man in the kitchen.

“Cause the kids are telling us it is.”

To learn more about The House and how you can donate or volunteer, please visit the website at www.thehousegj.org.

 

 

How it Happened

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

The other day Dave Beck had his car broken into. The thief took his sunglasses, some spare change, and other “nuisance” items.

“They left some things I can’t believe they left,” Beck would say about it later, chuckling. “But who was that? Was it just some kids? Or was it a homeless kid, just trying to get by? If that’s one of those kids, and he’s not there doing that because now he’s got a place to stay and doesn’t have to sleep on the streets at night, then how does that affect my life? One of those kids might become a county commissioner, but because he doesn’t have anywhere to go, he has to fend for himself.”

Beck is the General Manager and Director of Sales of Maranatha Broadcasting Corporation (MBC Grand) in Grand Junction, a group of eight radio stations across western Colorado, and a partner with The House.

“There’s a lot of effort and help for the older folks,” said Beck. “But kids? That’s a different story. They deserve a better shot at life.”

That made it easy for MBC Grand to come alongside The House.

“We’re an idea factory in many ways,” said Beck. “So when this project was presented before us, we developed a real passion for it and thought you know, we can make a real difference here.”

Beginning in March 2011, Karis Executive Director John Mok-Lamme and community fundraiser Russ Schuckmann began meeting with Beck and MBC Grand to initiate the process of inviting the community into supporting the project.

“Initially the goal was to find 1,000 people to give 100 dollars,” said Beck. “And we thought, wow, get 1,000 people out of western Colorado to give 100 dollars, that’s nothing. I figured that we’d get this thing put to bed in 60-90 days. We started to get activity once we got started, but not as much as we were hoping for.”

Those 60-90 days turned into several months, and still the response was not what was hoped for.

“That was probably a sign of people not being aware of the problem,” said Beck. “I think people make the assumption that it’s not that many kids, that it’s a condition of the attitude of the child – that they’re just being rebellious – and that there are a lot of options for them to go, so why do they need one more? And of course, none of that is true.”

MBC Grand and Karis would endure many stages of resilience in developing the right message to give the community.

“It got to the point,” said Beck, “where we had to ask ourselves if we were just gonna say, ‘well, we’ve done the best we can,’ or if we were gonna double down and come up with better ideas. That’s what we decided we were gonna do. The mission was not yet accomplished, and we were committed to it.”

That response was typical of the way Beck and MBC Grand runs things.

“Our mission around here is, ‘Because we exist, this is a better place,’” said Beck. “So that puts the burden on us to make sure we’re giving back and doing good things for the community.”

And on May 2, the efforts of Karis and MBC Grand came to fruition when The House officially opened.

“Once there was nothing and now there is,” said Beck, with a smile. “The House created something out of nothingness. I am blown away by how much has been accomplished in the amount of time it has. It’s taken us longer than we wanted, but I think that helps us appreciate the outcome and realize that nothing comes without effort.”

According to John Mok-Lamme, the contribution of MBC Grand has been without measure.

“There would be no us without them,” said Mok-Lamme. “They have donated over $100,000 in airtime alone. They have been and continue to be superstars for us.”

Beck sees the entire process as being more than worth it.

“Supporting this project is probably the easiest, most significant difference that you can make in a life,” he said. “And I’m banking on the people at The House to see their part of the process to fruition, that they start to change these teens’ lives. And their life change will affect my life. They will no longer think like they’re just here to be fed but that they’re here to produce, to give back and become more than themselves. Man, if everybody had that attitude, think what our world would be like.”

Perhaps because of the resilience of MBC Grand, those homeless teens will also be able to say, “Because we exist, this is a better place.”

To learn more about The House and how to donate or volunteer, please visit www.thehousegj.org.

 

John Hildebrand

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

Hanging on the wall inside the conference room hung an old newspaper clipping, with a headline that read, “Payroll company turns century-old building into new office space.”

I took a quick glance around the conference room inside the office of Autopaychecks, Inc., the company managing payroll for The House and a Grand Junction bookkeeping service, before the President of Business Development, John Hildebrand, came in for our interview. The outside of the building indeed consisted of century-old brick, but inside fresh paint and stained wood gave the building a totally different feel.

“Everybody can play some role in helping, financially or in getting a task done,” says Hildebrand, who offers his company’s services to several nonprofit organizations. “And doing the payroll for the organization is what we’re going to take on as our role in the piece. It’s about two to three thousand dollars per year to buy these services, so if you don’t have to pay for that, you can take that money and use it toward your mission. That’s how we can help.”

Hildebrand had little need to be made aware of the population of homeless teenagers in Mesa County, having spent significant time as a foster parent.

“My wife and I did foster care for two children, a boy and a girl,” he said. “But the little guys are easy. Teenage boys and girls are some of the toughest groups to deal with because most people in foster care are looking for a child, not a teenager. You don’t know what’s under the face or what their history is. We were not prepared for that sort of thing. To have a house that is built to do that, where people are trained to provide a safe landing place for kids in that situation, is really needed in our community.”

Hildebrand’s experience as a foster father fine-tuned him for something like The House.

“When you’re not in that world, you don’t think about how awful it is for those kids on a daily basis,” he said. “The stories of those kids that have to go into foster care are horrifying. We had kids with pretty significant problems that had to be dealt with.”

So when Hildebrand was approached with the opportunity to manage payroll and become a Guardian for such teens, the choice was easy.

“When I first heard about this population in the Grand Valley, I didn’t know what to do about it,” he said. “There are kids in foster care that are never taken to a family, and my understanding is that 85 percent of the kids who age out of the foster care system and are not connected to a family end up homeless as adults. Because they never learned good social skills, how to trust, or how to connect. So all those things that shape us into responsible people – discipline, education, consequences – they didn’t get.”

But with The House open, according to Hildebrand, now they can.

“Now there’s hope for them,” he said. “And I think that hope is the first step toward trust and healing. I think if you are hopeless then it’s very difficult to move forward. Until kids have hope that it’s possible, they probably can’t take the next step, which I think only happens through something like a family relationship, where they begin to understand that there are people in life who they can trust.”

I glanced up again at the newspaper headline on the wall. If buildings can be renewed, then surely people can be.

“And I think it starts with a safe place,” said Hildebrand. “A good meal. Kind people who are different. So in a couple of weeks they stay there and get a glimpse of what’s possible. I think frequently God doesn’t do what we think is possible because then we can take credit for it. I think God does the impossible because we can’t take credit for it. And I think that’s what is possible for these kids, is that God will step in and do what is not possible.”

Hildebrand has put his money where his heart is, committing to being a Guardian.

“There’s an old Russian proverb: Pray to God, and row to shore,” said Hildebrand. “There are a lot of people who sit in their rowboat with their oars inside the boat; and it’s not that God doesn’t act outside of us, but I think there’s a healthy amount of expectation for us to do our part. And as we do our part, He empowers us to do it. Every person and business has a unique skill or service to offer, so just do what you can. This is worth helping.”

Please visit www.thehousegj.org to learn more about The House and how to become a Guardian.

 

 

Cindy Chrysler

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

Cindy Chrysler is looking to receive a lot of benefits from The House, the shelter for homeless teens. In fact, she expects to receive in abundance. According to Chrysler, she will “receive tenfold” from the folks at The House.

Except that Chrysler is not homeless. She’s a volunteer.

“Anytime I’ve ever volunteered or done anything like this,” Chrysler said, “I have always received so much more. I feel energized, I’m excited, and I’ve received back tenfold what I’ve given. Every time.”

Chrysler, a dental hygienist from Mesa, Colorado, recently became The House’s first person – out of 38 needed – to volunteer their time and services for the homeless youth that will be staying at The House. For at least one shift throughout the week, Chrysler will be cooking meals, spending time with the teens, and getting to know the people that will be needing The House’s services.

“And perhaps planting a garden,” Chrysler adds with a smile. “I noticed there were some raised garden beds in the back, and what a great thing it would be to teach them how to plant vegetables, how to pick them and cook them that day.”

Chrysler, a mother of two and grandmother of four, sees the transition from her own kids to homeless kids to be a smooth one.

“When this came up, I didn’t have kids living at home anymore,” she said, “and I just thought, ‘It’s time. It’s time to start giving back again.’ I just feel like the hands-on, day-to-day activities with the kids, seeing them in the evenings and helping them with their homework and being a part of their lives, just fits me.”

The needs among these homeless teens were the primary force driving her to volunteer.

“Number one, these kids need to feel safe and loved,” she said. “That they are worth something. It breaks my heart to think of people not thinking that they’re worthwhile. I think they just need to feel safe and hear us say, ‘Here’s your chance. We’re gonna keep you safe, we’re gonna feed you, we’re gonna talk to you, we’re gonna get you directed in the right direction.’ I hope I have the capability to do that, to point them in the right direction.”

One direction Chrysler wants to point them is toward family.

“It takes a village to raise a kid,” Chrysler said. “If there’s a whole group of people at The House, then we can help raise a lot of kids. A big thing is nurturing, providing a home life that maybe a lot of these kids haven’t had. Just be part of a family. A family doesn’t have to a mom and a dad and kids back at home. It can be extended family; it can be the church family, the community. It can be The House.”

Chrysler, an avid outdoorswoman, was donned in her biking equipment, ready to start her day biking with her family.

“I feel like I get out a lot, that I’m pretty clued-in to what’s going on,” Chrysler said, “and I was actually surprised at the number 160, that there’s that many homeless kids. It’s just sad that a person has to get to a point like that in life. If I can be involved in something like that, if I can let them know that they’re special and they are created by God and He has a plan for them, if I can redirect those kids at all to a plan, that they are really unique and special, then I will feel like I’ve had a good day. They have potential, and you gotta work toward that and make them a better person in a better place.”

To do that, according to Chrysler, it will take more than a year, the period of time for which she is volunteering.

“I hope to develop relationships that go beyond the homeless shelter,” she said. “I hope to see these kids in the community, functioning and doing things. I hope to carry on a relationship beyond that, with whomever I can.”

In doing so, Chrysler believes that one of the poorest, most desperate populations out there will be giving to her in ways nothing else can.

“It’s a time commitment for sure,” Chrysler said, “but I’ve found out in the past that the more you give, the more you receive in return. It can be a little scary cause you’re like, ‘I’m too old or too young or I’m not this or I’m not that,’ but that’s just the type of person that’s perfect, because then you can learn. I just want to encourage anyone that’s even interested to come check it out.”

Please visit www.thehousegj.org to learn more about The House and how to receive from these homeless teens.

Story provided by Robert Lamme and Associates.

Hal Heath

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

“We’re gonna do this on the go, if that’s okay,” said Hal Heath, owner of Heath & Co. Realtors in Grand Junction. He said this to me as soon as I arrived at The House, where we were to conduct our interview, and where Heath was volunteering for some renovation work at The House.

 “We’ll get this done in like five or ten minutes,” added Heath, referring to our interview, as he gathered materials out of the back of his car and proceeded toward the work site, while I scrambled to keep up, fumbling with my recorder.

“I used to work at the homeless shelter on North Avenue,” said Heath, clearly eager to get to work. “I noticed there that it seemed like some people were kinda stuck in the system. I wanted to help kids so that they didn’t get stuck. So when I heard about a shelter for teens, I said, ‘Okay, I’m in. Where can I help.’”

On this day, Heath, a Guardian of The House, was cutting out dry wall in a couple rooms for some needed renovation.

“This here is Bart Spor and Chuck Parish from Kleen Kut Service,” said Heath, motioning to two more volunteers caked in dirt as they worked to cut through concrete in the wall of The House. I shook hands with Spor, but Parish hesitated.

“I’m a little muddy,” said Parish with a wry smile, his hair blonde from concrete dust, and continued with his work.

“This is the beauty of the way The House is set up,” said Heath, indicating Spor and Parish. “Places like hospitals cost millions of dollars and there’s not much the average person like you or me can do to contribute. But with The House, volunteering like these guys do is priceless. Giving a hundred bucks is priceless. The average person can make a difference here.”

As Heath went inside to clean the floors where he would be cutting dry wall, he emphasized what exactly that difference was, the very thing that motivated him to become a Guardian.

“My daughter is a teacher at Fruita High School,” he said, “and one day she called me and said, ‘I got a kid in class, and she and her sister and her mom are living in a car.’ So I became aware of this population of people who really need help. And I wanted to help kids, cause if you can help kids get squared away then it helps their self-esteem and their life, but it also helps them get on a path for life so that they can help other people. Instead of the system helping them, they can help other people in the future.”

A population of homeless teenagers also hits close to home for Heath.

“I got kids of my own. Chuck’s got kids of his own,” said Heath. “So we understand that we need to give these kids reassurance that they are loved somewhere and that somebody cares. That people want to help them.”

By this time, Heath is on his hands and knees, wiping up mud leaking onto the floor from the concrete cutting taking place outside.

“If they can come in here,” he continued, wiping his muddied hands, “and leave a few days later feeling better about themselves, having communication with their family, a comfort that somebody loves them and that God is on their side, then they can get on with their lives. It will give them a feeling of self-worth so that they can find a path toward their next chapter of life.”

Heath pauses, hands on his hips, then quickly gets up and checks the other room. Outside, Spor and Parish begin sawing through more concrete, filling the room with the high-pitched roar of their saw. None of these people were getting paid for their work, and the mud dried onto their face seemed to symbolize the muddied, messy situations so many of these kids seem to be coming from as well as the work that would be necessary to see a place like The House take off.

“This is being done on a grassroots level,” said Heath, coming back into the room with a tape measure. “Its very efficient. So people can be a Guardian, yes, but they can also volunteer like us or come over and help these kids once this gets going.”

Heath takes a quick measurement, then looks at me with convicted eyes.

“This is the right goal, to help these teenagers,” he said. “It just feels like the right thing to do.”

Please visit www.thehousegj.org to learn more about The House, how to become a Guardian, and other volunteering opportunities.

Story provided by Robert Lamme and Associates.

Curt Lincoln

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

Jonas is a busy little boy.

Donned in a stark red bike helmet, about a size too large for his two year-old head, he saddles himself onto his little yellow bike, which barely sits two feet off the ground. The block-and-a-half walk from his parents’ house to the Slice-o-Life Bakery in Palisade takes close to ten minutes as Jonas Flinstones his bike down Main Street, dismounts, climbs a few nearby steps, jumps off, and lands with dramatic sound effects. He then decides he’s had enough of that, and mounts his bike once again.

Nearby, keeping close watch and cradling Jonas’ little brother, Sawyer, is Jonas’ father, Curt Lincoln.

“It would break my heart if I knew my kid was on the streets,” said Lincoln, the namesake of Lincoln Cabinets in Palisade, as Jonas decides he’s had enough with the bike and hands it to his mother, Hannah, Lincoln’s wife. Lincoln learned about the situation for homeless teens in Mesa County several years ago, and ever since then has kept them near his heart.

“It’s one of those hidden needs in the community because you don’t really see teenagers standing on the street corners asking for money,” he said. “You have to really look deeper into the community. And you find that some of these kids actually do live somewhere, but it’s at a friend’s house, or it’s a couch-surfing thing. So in the eyes of the general public they’re kind of taken cared of. But the reality is that a high percentage of these homeless teens have low connection levels in the community, and a teen who is connected to a community has a higher success rate in life. And what The House does is to try to get them connected into the community.”

Lincoln, a board member for Karis Inc., believes that such a void is a make-or-break deal for homeless teens.

“They need hope,” Lincoln said. “If you’re a homeless teen, it would be kind of a desperate situation. They need to know that there are people out there who really care for them and have a heart to help them. They need to know their value, that inside each of them is great value. There’s a lot of worth in them as people and individuals and in their life, and it’s worth doing it well.”

That made it easy for the Lincolns to decide to become Guardians.

“I really believe in what The House is trying to achieve,” said Lincoln. “I am really excited about it. The little bit that is required of being a Guardian is going to go a long way in the life of a kid. It’s nothing. We could do this all day long.”

And for anyone else considering becoming a Guardian, as far as Lincoln’s concerned, it’s a no-brainer.

“Do it. Just do it,” he said. “Imagine yourself back when you were a teenager and think about the level of difficulty navigating adolescence. Then throw on top of that no stable home, no source of direction in life. Put yourself in those shoes and just imagine for a minute, even thirty seconds. There’s no decision; it’s very easy. Take the little sacrifice on yourself, providing a place where there is an opportunity for that to happen, for them to not have to live with being vulnerable to the hands of bad people.”

Inside the bakery, Jonas is still on his bike, and Lincoln watches as his son navigates between the tables and chairs of the bakery.

“I can’t imagine if my kid were in that kind of situation,” he said. “All this really makes want to love on and nurture my own kids more than anything.”

“It makes me want to be a better parent,” says Hannah, with Sawyer bouncing in her lap. “It makes me want to do my best at parenting my own kids to ensure that they don’t end up in a situation like that.”

Walking back to their home, Jonas again climbs a couple nearby steps and jumps, his red helmet flashing in the morning sunlight, and as he lands he stumbles to the ground. In an instant, Lincoln was at his son’s side, helping him back to his feet.

“Inside each homeless youth lies a beautiful story of hope waiting to unfold,” says Lincoln, as he holds Jonas up. “And that particular person will be a catalyst for other homeless teens who need that. And that will eventually become a beautiful cycle of redemption.”

To learn more about The House and how to become a Guardian, please visit The House’s website www.thehousegj.org.

Story provided by Robert Lamme and Associates.

John Farley

Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

In 1987, twenty years before Father John Farley became pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Grand Junction, Farley began a project in the streets of Denver. He was doing a week-long “urban immersion” program with Outward Bound. In this program he was partnered up with a friend, given ten dollars, and with only the coat on his back was told, “Okay, see you in three days!”

For the next three days Farley experienced the reality of living homeless on the streets of a major city.

“Of course, I knew I would be back to life after three days,” said Farley, “but if I were to have collapsed in on myself, even getting from soup kitchen to shelter would have been very difficult.”

Farley never thought that that experience over 25 years ago would have such pertinent meaning now in his community in Grand Junction.

“It’s possible to live on the streets in a place like Denver; there are enough services to make it possible,” he said. “But in Grand Junction, we have services for adults, for families, and for little kids; but there’s also this group of kids who aren’t little kids. They can’t go back to their home because they’ll most likely end up back on the streets again. They can’t be housed with adults in homeless shelters. Not many of them have friends that can take them in for more than a night or two. So where do these kids fit? What kind of services are available for this kind of population? The House is an answer to that.”

The situation of homeless teens in Mesa County is one that has “pulled on the heartstrings” of Farley since he read an article about it and became a Guardian of The House. The primary issue these teens face, according to Farley, is stability.

“It’s amazing the power of stability in people’s lives,” he said. “If you can provide a place for people that’s stable, then people can land there, can discover a sense of home, a sense of family. That stability gives them the ability, then, to move on. The instability just crashes them in on themselves. It’s such a struggle to provide for your needs when you don’t have a stable place. If The House provides those things, The House provides a lot.”

That concept of stability hits close to home for Farley, who, shortly after college, fell into an unstable situation himself.

“The place where I was renting was being sold, and I got this final notice on Monday that I needed to be out by the end of the week,” said Farley. “I had a degree, so I had all the academic skills, but none of the life skills for moving ahead. I had the generosity of friends that let me stay here, stay there, but I couldn’t figure out how to have the conversation: ‘John, how are we going to fix this?’ I can’t imagine being in that situation as a teenager. A place like The House could have been a place to provide that conversation. ‘This is what you need to know, John, and this is how you do it.’”

The potential for meeting such needs for people in such unstable circumstances moved Farley to become a Guardian.

“A hundred bucks a year just did not seem like an impossible amount of money,” Farley said. “And with so many of these kids, homelessness is just one problem in their life. But if we can address the homelessness, if we can provide a place that’s stable, then we can begin dealing with the other issues.”

Farley also has a special word to those considering becoming a Guardian as well.

“You gotta go back in your own memories, to that horrendously insecure time when you were a teenager,” he said. “Consider how that would’ve worked without a home, without a family. Think through your own insecurity at that time in your life. How could you possibly have what you have today without that?”

If you would like to learn more about The House or becoming a Guardian, please visit www.thehousegj.org.

Story provided by Robert Lamme and Associates.

 

Bambino


Thank you to Lammé and Associates.

Mike Bambino was only 13 years old at the time. “My mother died a couple years later and my father was an alcoholic,” he said of the period of his life that he experienced homelessness. “It was not a great situation.”

Bambino, now the face of the “Dare to Car’e” mechanic shop on North Avenue in Grand Junction, to this day vividly remembers his experience living without a safe place to go to.

“Take all your keys and money out of your pocket at night, when it’s dark, lock yourself out of your own house with nothing, and that’s kinda how it feels,” he said. “It’s like, where do I go now? I got no money, I got no home, and I got nobody.”

With such an experience still locked in Bambino’s memory, it struck a chord with him when he first discovered that there were over 100 homeless teens – just like he was – in the Grand Valley.

“I didn’t even realize, working at the homeless shelter, that teens could not get in, by law,” he said. “I can identify with these kids, and a lot of them are trying to escape a bad situation, so I knew immediately that we had to intervene in these kids’ lives and give them a hope and a vision and a foundation for daily living, and get them back into a safe environment.”

For those reasons, when Bambino first heard about The House, he jumped all over the opportunity.

“The House. I just think it’s the greatest thing. I have never wanted to get something open so bad, so fast,” he said. “There is no way that I could go to sleep at night knowing there are kids out there that have nowhere to go; there is just no way in the world I am gonna sit back and do nothing. It’s just not in my being.”

Bambino chose to be a Guardian for The House immediately, and is passionately urging other people to join in the cause.

“What people need to understand is that these kids are going one direction or the other,” he said. “Either we intervene in their lives and try to get them some good, constructive direction, or we all know where they’re gonna go. The biggest thing at that age is that you need structure, you need guidance, and you need to know that you’re in a safe place. We have to get out there and say, ‘Come with us.’”

Bambino is tossing his grease-stained hands all over the air as he talks, manifesting physically the passion going on inside him. He pauses to wipe his hands, then leans forward on the car he’s working on and continues.

“This is not the country I grew up in; this is not the way it was when I grew up. Those of us who grew up with those values have got to step outside our own family and say, ‘You know what, we have got to help these other kids who maybe were not as lucky as our kids.’ If anybody hears this and you’re not supporting The House or the homeless in town, just do that. The House is gonna be the finest thing to open in Grand Junction in a long, long time. Guaranteed.”

If you would like to become one of the House’s 1,000 needed Guardians contributing 100 dollars a year for these teens, please visit the website at thehousegj.org.

Story provided by Robert Lamme and Associates.