Established in June 2019, Steadfast is eager to open the doors of its first “transformational” home, with a mission to provide safe housing in a caring, supervised and home-like environment for unaccompanied homeless youth and for youth transitioning out of foster care. Steadfast aims to lift our local youth out of homelessness and poverty, and restore their unique hopes and dreams.
According to the Maryland Youth Reach Survey, there are at least 145 unaccompanied homeless youth in Frederick County. (Many believe this number is likely much higher because these youth tend to stay below the radar.)
We spent some time with Steadfast Founder and Executive Director Cindy Morgan, President of the Board Richard “Benny” Bienvenue, Vice-President of the Board Cary Plamondon, Esq. and House Lead Kelly Christiano, to learn more about the opening of the Steadfast house as they prepare to welcome their first “family members.”
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH STEADFAST?
Cary: I am an attorney and do some pro bono legal work. I got involved with Steadfast through the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate for children) program. As a CASA advocate, you are assigned a youth that is in the foster care system and you help represent them in court...They may be taken out of their home due to neglect or abuse. They may be with a foster family...This opened my eyes to how great the need was in Frederick. When I met Cindy and some other women who are in the CASA program...remarkably most of us served male youths in their teenage years. We learned a lot about what the struggles are for youth when they don’t have adult support. So, when Cindy said, “We need a place for these youth to go.” I said, “I’m in!”
Benny: I ran a residential school for juvenile offenders, older teenage boys, for 27 years. Cindy came down one day. She told me she wanted to create a home for kids who needed a place to stay. We talked for a bit...I could tell that this was going to work!…I decided to help because it’s a mission that is extremely needed without a doubt. Kids are staying on couches and in cars and all that stuff. Listening to Cindy more, and the fact that she was going to give up a good job to do this…I said to myself, “WOW! That type of commitment and passion is going to be successful!”
I was getting ready to retire after 47 years of working with kids, but I decided I had to be a part of Steadfast…I’ve seen lots of youth facilities and homes that just don’t work. But, I knew that this would work. She invited me to be on the Board and I said, “Of course!”
Cindy: Benny started Our House from scratch. So, when I came into this new field...he helped me to navigate through the nonprofit world.
Kelly: I am a social worker by trade. It’s a pretty big honor for me to be Steadfast’s first employee in the role of House Lead. I met Cindy when we collaborated on a different program. The more we talked and got to know each other, we discovered we were on the same wavelength about how services should be delivered and how people should be treated. We really connected. It was time for me to transition from where I was and start something new. Cindy said, “I have something new for you!”
Cindy: It’s been a little over a year...Kelly has helped us grow leaps and bounds. She has made her stamp on this home as well. She has helped us really propel forward.
HOW DID STEADFAST ORIGINATE?
Cindy: My dad, Robert Hemby, grew up in foster care beginning at age four through graduation from high school. He went through four different foster care families. During high school, he was with a foster care family and the mother passed away. The father moved out of the home and told my dad he could live there by himself. Basically, he was abandoned. The house had no electricity or running water...So, he hunted and fished and went to school and played football and he eventually graduated from high school. During his high school years, nobody knew how he had been living. He stayed below the radar. ...My mom and dad were high school sweethearts. When my mom graduated from high school, they immediately got married because all my dad ever wanted was a home and a family. They immediately started having us and there are five kids in our family. He was a really hard worker. He believed in God. He was a survivor and a very strong man and broke that chain.
As I got older, he shared more with me about his unfortunate experiences in foster care...He shared with me that the social services would come and interview him in these homes in front of the foster families. There was never anyone that was there to stand up for him. Years later, I learned about CASA and thought, “This is what my dad needed.” I decided to volunteer for the CASA program...What I learned is that about 50% of youth getting out of foster care become homeless within 18 months.
Robert (the same first name as my dad), my CINA (Child In Need of Assistance), had a HUGE impact on me, as it was his journey through the Foster Care system that inspired me to open a home. I want him to know that his life has made a difference for others. [About three years ago], God laid it on my heart to start a home and here we are. (We will open one for homeless young females once we are strong and operating.)...I had a very good job with an airline but decided to step down during Covid. The airline gave me an opportunity for early retirement and that allowed me to be 100% all in!
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHAIRS?
Kelly: Cindy’s vision for the chair was for “Everyone to have a seat at the table.”...We have youth coming from traumatic backgrounds, never having a home-like environment. Cindy said, “We want this to be as homelike as possible.” And I said, “What is more ‘home’ than having your seat at the dinner table?” One thing we want is for the youth to have this visual that they have a seat at the table. So, we give them a chair to decorate however they want. It’s their chair forever. They can either leave it here or take it with them when they transition out, and they are always welcome to come back to Sunday dinners. They always have a place at their Steadfast home.
Cindy: And that’s very symbolic, too! We want them to know that if they need something, we are here for them. They can pick up the phone. They can say, “I’m having trouble with this. What can I do?”...If you want to be, you are a part of our family. It’s not forced, but we’re here for you.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES STEADFAST?
Kelly: We have learned that significant changes don’t happen outside of significant relationships...you don’t learn from [a] workshop, you learn from people. Many of us that grew up in homes with loving, supportive adult relationships; we learned how to drive a car or get a bank account from our parents or grandparents or someone who loved us…in a process over time... We’re aiming to provide an atmosphere that cultivates significant relationships first so that the learning and behavioral changes will come.
Cary: We already have a list of volunteers that are ready to help in that regard. We have mentors...and potentially grandparent mentors...The other important thing is that we’re not reinventing the wheel. There are so many great non-profits in Frederick. So, we’re tying into as many as we can...We can’t wait to get open because there are so many people out there who want to be a part of this. It’s exciting!
Cindy: If it’s already out in the community in another non-profit or organization, we’re connecting with those organizations and working together. If it’s not in the community, then we offer it here at Steadfast.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT READERS TO KNOW ABOUT STEADFAST?
Benny: Steadfast is effective and workable. It will really teach young men to get out on their own, put their lives together and be successful. This will work!
Cindy: I really want to recognize FCF church for gifting this house for a very long-term agreement that is rent-free. I went to Pastor Randy Goldenberg to share what was on my heart and what we were doing. I went to him asking for prayer. He asked, “what do you need?” I told him we really need a house. He said, “Well, we have a house!” They have been so generous.
Cary: Just because you don’t see youth homelessness, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist here in Frederick. We idealize Frederick a lot because it’s a great place to live. There are a lot of things that go unperceived. We would love the Frederick community to be aware that this is a problem and that a big need does exist.
Kelly: The term “transitional housing” is the idea that there is a transition between homelessness and permanent, forever housing. We provide “transformational housing.” The idea that you’re not going to leave how you came...While most transitional housing offers one year, we give youth up to three years. This provides time to grow up, get skills, have a stable foundation and have lasting relationships.
Cindy: I’m surrounded by so many amazing, wonderful people. It really, truly does take a village. Everybody has a part to play. Everybody has a purpose. Everybody has something to bring to the table and it brings it all together. So, it’s been quite a beautiful and interesting journey to where we are now–which is a really good place. SteadfastMD.org
"It really, truly does take a village. Everybody has a part to play. Everybody has a purpose. Everybody has something to bring to the table and it brings it all together." - Cindy Morgan, Founder of Steadfast
"We're aiming to provide an atmosphere that cultivates significant relationships first, so that the learning and behavioral changes will come." - Kelly Christiano, House Lead