Janet Soltis Jefferson Award 2019 Finalist

One afternoon per month, you will find Janet Soltis in the Huckleberry House crisis shelter’s kitchen, baking with teenagers. The teenagers are there because they are experiencing some sort of crisis – neglect, abuse, homelessness, stress at home. Janet is there because she believes that “what the youth really need is to know that someone cares and that they are valued.”

Janet knows food and cooking are icebreakers for anyone, especially teenagers. Baking cookies or making Rice Crispy Treats gives the young people something to focus on, an activity in which to participate. Conversation usually starts with “my mom does it this way,” or “I remember my grandma used to crack eggs with one hand.” Very quickly, the teens open up. Janet’s open and caring personality is just laid back enough to make conversation safe.

Janet is still known to her former students, a few of whom work at Huckleberry House, as Ms. Soltis the middle school English teacher. When she comes to Huck House to bake with the teens, she brings sugar, flour, eggs, chocolate chips, and years of wisdom and expertise talking to teenagers. Her calming presence is something lacking in the lives of many Huck House youth.

At her core, Janet cares about the future of the young people in Columbus. Ten years ago, she started a scholarship fund to support young women in Huckleberry House programs. Since then, seventeen young women have received Homer-Soltis Scholarships. Most recipients are clients in our Transitional Living Program who are working hard to learn all the skills they will need to live independently after graduating from the Huck House program. Education is a big part of future success, and Janet wanted to be sure cost was not an obstacle for any young woman who wants to be in school.

Janet also loves dogs and is currently training her second therapy dog Sam. Eventually, he and Janet will visit nursing homes and other places that welcome therapy dogs. We are anxious for Sam to finish his training so he can come with Janet to Huck House.

Huckleberry House nominated Janet Soltis because she sets an example of valuing all young people. Janet was chosen as one of 20 WBNS-10TV and Lifeline of Ohio 2019 Jefferson Awards Finalists out of the 152 nominated. This is a distinguished honor and one which carries with it the distinction of the highest ideals and achievements of public service in this country. Read more about the Jefferson Awards and 2019 winners here.

National Safe Place Week – by Emily Long

NSP Week 2019 - FB CoverThis week is National Safe Place Week, a week that not many may know about, but is very important. Around a year ago, I was on my way to Louisville, KY to learn about Safe Place. I was recently informed that I was selected to be a Columbus Foundation Summer Fellow, and my placement was at Huckleberry House working on a project called Safe Place. I was absolutely thrilled and excited. Safe Place is a youth outreach program that helps those in crisis get to safety. I was able to learn from the National Safe Place office in Louisville about the ins and outs of the program. At Huckleberry House, I was able to use this information to reconnect our Safe Place program with the Columbus Fire Department, create a new operations manual, and coordinate logistics for the sustainability of the program.

My summer at Huckleberry House working on Safe Place was impactful. It is so important to provide a way for youth in crisis to get to Huckleberry House. Our city is continuously growing and youth homelessness is a real challenge for central Ohio. I learned at Huck House to put people and relationships first to help guide this program. Safe Place is truly about the youth, and the number one priority is to keep them safe. I am grateful for the opportunity to work on Safe Place last summer and to work with all the folks at Huck House. If the program helps even just one youth find their way to Huck House, it is worth it to keep our Columbus youth safe!

Written by Emily Long, Huck House 2019 Columbus Foundation Fellow

Youth Homelessness | By: Kyra Crockett

Photo by Matt Hatcher, a photojournalist whose work can be found at www.mhatcherphotography.com/homelessness/

Imagine being somewhere (like school, work, community center or a library) and not knowing where you are going next when it is time for those doors to close. Imagine riding the COTA bus for hours just to use up some of your idle time. Imagine having no consistent support system to lean on when things are scary, unsafe or unknown. Maybe today a friend’s parents fell asleep early so you could sneak in their basement for a while. Two nights ago you were sleeping in a tent campsite along the railroad tracks. The night before that, you were in the Grant Hospital ER hoping to blend in so you can sleep. Night to night, the scene changes with only one consistency — nowhere to call home.

Unfortunately, hundreds of homeless youth experience homelessness right here in Columbus, Ohio. Families who are exactly like people you know experience situations that push them into crisis for a period of time. Some families can work through it and eventually move on from it. Other families struggle to the point of a teen running away, parents kicking kids out or parents leaving their children behind when they move on. Homelessness is something no one should have to experience, let alone a youth.

Although there are many facets that play into the WHY, our efforts need to address PREVENTING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. For those that are already there, how do we ensure their safety and rebuild their spirits?

Whether we blame the lack of housing options for young people or we blame the kids for being disrespectful or we point our fingers at the parents for not caring enough…it doesn’t change the fact that this goes on daily. The costs to our community, our families and our children are too great to ignore.

Talk to the kids in your lives! Make sure they have someone in their life (even if it’s not you) that they feel comfortable talking to about tough topics. And, as parents IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELP AS WELL! None of us are perfect, so let’s stop acting as so!

-Kyra Crockett, Youth Outreach Program Manager

Future Thinking: What are your Goals? | By Huck House Youth

This month, we focused on future thinking. In the Crisis Shelter, we discussed plans for the future and asked youth to answer a few questions about their futures.

1. What would you like to be doing when you turn 18?
2. What are some things you are doing to get ready for that?
3. What more can you do to get you ready for that?
4. Do you have a backup plan?

If you are a young person, what are your answers to these questions? Parents and mentors, what would you say to these people and how could you help them realize their goals?
Please share your answers and thoughts in the comment section.

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