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.