Momentum Magazine January 2018 Edition - Page 7

A SAFE HAVEN NEPA Youth Shelter seeks to help all teens reach their potential It was the answer to a geographical question, now it is providing a haven to disadvantaged teens and young adults in our region and beyond. The NEPA Youth Shelter opened its doors at 541 Wyoming Avenue in downtown Scranton this past October, the culmination of three years of hard work and determination. The shelter’s journey to fruition began while executive director Maureen Maher Gray was working for Equality Pennsylvania and discovered a problem in need of solving. “During my time with Equality Pennsylvania, I met many LGBTQ high school students who told me that they would never disclose their sexuality to their parents because they were certain they would be kicked out of their homes with no place to go,” she said. “I heard the same statements in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Reading, Honesdale, Towanda and East Stroudsburg. I looked into the situation and found that the closest shelter for any teen in crisis was in Allentown. How does a teen get from here to any of those places?” The NEPA Youth Shelter provides services for any teen, but especially for those experiencing housing insecurities. Services include a hot meal every night, counseling, support groups, art and yoga classes, computers and printers for homework, a free clothing exchange, laundry services and a nap room. The shelter is also in the process of upgrading its bathroom to include a shower. Ms. Gray hopes that the shelter helps clarify preconceived notions about at- risk youth. “The assumption is that the youth we serve are poorly educated and criminals in the making,” she said. “I can tell you that some of these kids are incredibly bright. They have hopes of attending college and having professional careers. We are working with local non- profit organizatio ns to help them reach their fullest potential.” The shelter currently serves 40 individual teens, with plans to expand to up to 100 in 2018. Adult volunteers are always needed in a variety of capacities, including serving as a supportive mentor for the teens. “The teens we have served so far have been somewhat overwhelmed by what we offer for them,” Ms. Gray said. “We have kids cry when they are able to pick out a new coat for winter or a new pair of uniform pants. We have had kids take hours-long naps because they are exhausted.” Through her research, Ms. Gray discovered that there was a growing number of teens in our region who were either couch surfing, living in hobo camps or cars or other abandoned spaces. “One of the teens sent in a card a few weeks ago,” she continued. “The card said, ‘This place means a lot to us and we are glad to be welcomed here.’ To me, this statement says that we are fulfilling our mission.” For more information, visit • 7