John was 18 when he first came to City House. Raised in an unstable home environment, John knew he needed outside help to move forward in his adult life. It wasn’t easy, though. John experienced a few setbacks along the way, but City House was there each time to help him start again. Over a few years, John acquired the life-skills and tools required to overcome the obstacles in his life at the Transitional Living Program division of City House. But most importantly, John received the encouragement he needed to keep moving forward and try again.
“At City House, I learned how to be accountable and responsible. I got a job and learned how to save money. Best of all, everyone cared enough to understand me because they always listened to me…”
Recently the staff at City House sent John off with air hugs as John boarded a Greyhound bus to start fresh in a new city with a new job.
John’s story is one of the thousands in City House’s long history of transforming the lives of at-risk children, youth, and young adults. Founded in 1988 by PISD school counselor Nancy Boyd and educator Kay Goodman, the mission of City House is to protect, empower and transform the lives of at-risk children, youth, and young adults (newborn to 24 years), suffering from abuse, neglect or homelessness. What began as a 6-bed teen shelter has grown into a 48-bed multi-faceted agency. The agency operates a children’s emergency shelter, three transitional living homes, and free individual and family counseling services. It also runs a Street Outreach Program, and a Youth Resource and Community Outreach Center.
City House is the only emergency shelter in Collin County that serves children birth to 17 years of age. Currently, 80% of their beneficiaries come from the Dallas and Collin County areas, but some come from cities much further away. Seventy to seventy-five percent of youth come to City House through Child Protective Services, and 25% are runaways.
City House also finds at-risk youth and young adults through their Street Outreach Program. The Street Outreach team drives and walks the streets in known “hotspots” and other areas where youth and young adults congregate. The team distributes food, clothing, hygiene products, and resource information to build rapport, so these youth will eventually agree to come to the City House facility to get help. Relationships are critical for the effectiveness of the program.
City House also partners with Quick Trip gas stations to find youth who need their services. Quick Trip posts a yellow “Safe Place” sign in the window of its gas stations listing the City House contact information. A recent Safe Place success story involves a girl in the Denton county area who found City House from a Quick Trip sign. Through family counseling and additional City House resources, she and her family are reunited in a healthy environment.
COVID-19 has only increased the desperate situation these kids find themselves in. Multiplied family stresses from lost jobs, close quarters, and many other factors, have exacerbated already difficult situations. Where school was once their safe place, shelter-in-place exposed kids to danger 24/7. As a result, many kids experience increased trauma culminating in an even higher need for counseling therapies.
When at-risk youth and young adults first come to City House, they are given a full assessment so City House gains a complete understanding of them and their situation. Each individual is then given a case manager who customizes their program and regularly meets with them to gauge their progress during their stay.
All programs and assistance are treated as a partnership between City House and the client. Every program is client-based and driven. The programs consist of life-skills training, as well as enrichment and social activities. City House provides a balance so that clients feel connected to one another while they learn and have fun together.
There are, however, rules and criteria that must be followed for the clients to receive assistance. For example, in the Transitional Living Program, clients are required to either be working, attending school, or volunteering 50 hours a week to participate. There is a curfew as well. Participants learn how to manage their money and are required to save so that they will have a nest egg built up to start their new life when they leave.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with CEO Sheri Messer and Director of Development, Lynn Bergman, about City House. Both came to City House as volunteers. Both continue to serve because of their firm belief that the youth served by City House is the most vulnerable of our community. Messer says, “They didn’t choose to be born into their situation.” Bergman further states that, “If they don’t receive help, many of them are headed to the judicial system.” The services offered by City House change the narrative, equipping and empowering at-risk kids to transform into independent contributing citizens of our community.
Because of COVID, City House had to cancel its annual spring fund-raising event, placing City House and the clients it serves in a desperate financial situation. Preparations for a fall unGala are being made, and they need your help! To learn more or donate, visit their website at, www.cityhouse.org. For volunteer opportunities contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For all other inquiries use https://cityhouse.org/index.php/about/contact-us/.