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.

“Why I am Thankful for Huck House” by Jessica Barwell

On April 20, I participated in the first annual “Sleep Out Columbus” in which 70 people slept outside to raise money for and awareness about youth homelessness in central Ohio. All of these people were doing this for one night. I cannot imagine doing this every night. I especially cannot imagine being a child or a teenager doing this every night. As I prepare to begin my fundraising for the 2019 Sleep Out and educating my family and friends about youth homelessness, I have been reflecting on my gratitude for Huck House.

I am thankful for Huck House being there for our at-risk youth, for providing a safe place to sleep, for providing the tools, resources, and services that a family and a community should provide.

I am thankful for Huck House staff who meet with at-risk youth daily who have lost so much in their life, including their self-esteem.  Many who come to Huck House have been experiencing loss, violence, abuse, neglect, and other forms of trauma. I am thankful that Huck House staff is there to acknowledge their struggle, respond holistically, and find ways to highlight their resilience and survival.  I am thankful that Huck House is consistent in meeting their needs and proving that Huck House is worthy of their trust. I am grateful that the Huck House Crisis Program makes family reunification a priority whenever possible while providing alternatives when that cannot be an option.

I am thankful for the Huck House Transitional Living Program, for providing safe homes for homeless transition-age youth, ages 18-22, and their children and at the same time teaching life skills from conflict resolution, to effective communication, from anger management, to coping. Huck House creates the space for these individuals to feel accepted and helps support them so that they can stay healthy and hopeful to learn how to make better decisions.

I am thankful for the Huck House counselor’s hard work helping teens and families develop skills they can use to tackle their issues. The counselors then connect them with community resources for housing, employment, education, and government assistance.

I am thankful for the Huck House Youth Outreach Program. The staff at YOP go to our at-risk youth who won’t come to Huck House on their own.  They meet kids on their own turf, and provide a safe place for them to go to obtain services and resources.

This is the time of year many start to think about donating to certain causes and want to help those in our community who are less fortunate.  I find myself often wondering “What would it be like to be grateful for the kindness of others every single day in order to survive?”  Being on the Board of Huckleberry House since 2015, I have come to understand the true meaning of gratitude.  I am grateful to be a part of an organization that is making lasting change in the lives of young people.

 

-Jessica Barwell, Huckleberry House Board Member

 

Gratitude – Sonya Thesing

Most people think that my job at Huck House, as development director, is about asking. Asking for money, asking for things, asking for support, asking for volunteers.

I look at my role differently.

Sonya's family created a gratitude scrapbook in November 2011 when her sons were 10 and 11 years old.

Sonya’s family created a gratitude scrapbook in November 2011 when her sons were 10 and 11 years old.

I see it as inviting. I invite people to participate in the great work of Huck House. I invite them to be a part of solving youth homelessness. I invite them to help families find their strengths to fix what is wrong. I invite them to support young people who are working to create better lives for themselves.

The best part of my week is when I pause to say thank you to those of you who have supported Huck House. Development directors write letters, send emails, and make phone calls to let donors know how much their contributions mean to the mission of an organization.

Saying “thank you” is obviously an outward expression. For me, though, saying “thank you” inspires deep gratitude. I am struck by an awareness of incredible kindness, hope for our future, and goodness in our community. When I say “Thank you for your gift of money,” there is a deeper meaning. It would be more accurate to say “Thank you for not giving up on our youth. Your donation represents hope and compassion. The youth of our community are blessed to have people like you rooting for them.”

I have a co-worker who comes to my office regularly to say “I love my job” or “I woke up so happy to come to work today.” I feel the same way. I am thankful every day that I get to see the kindness of our supporters and the difference their compassion makes for the youth we serve.

When my sons were in fourth and fifth grade, our family created a thankfulness scrapbook during the month of November. I remember great conversations while we thought about what we were thankful for.

If you and I were to share a cup of tea this month and talk about what makes us grateful, at some point, you would hear me say I am thankful for the generosity —-of treasure and spirit —- that I get to experience every day.

 

Written by: Sonya Thesing, Development Director

Now We’re Getting Somewhere

At Huckleberry House, getting youth to a better place wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of individual and corporate donors who believe in our work and our commitment to helping young people move through challenges and move toward their goals. We are grateful to the tremendous support of all of our contributors. We asked a good friend of Huck House to tell us why she gives.

“Being new to Columbus, I was interested in learning about and serving the community. Through my employer, I heard about Huck House and was immediately drawn to the cause. I learned more about the Huck House mission, and I knew I had to get involved.
Here’s why… As an adoptive parent, I had the chance to interact quite a bit with my daughter’s birth parents throughout the pregnancy and birth. Through our conversations, I learned about their past. They both had faced very tough times growing up, which led to continued troubles in adulthood. Their struggles brought them to a place where they were not going to be able to keep their child, a decision nobody would ever want to make. I saw their struggles, and I knew that, had they had a safe place like Huck House available to them, life could have taken a much different path.

I see them, my daughter’s birth parents, in the many faces of the clients that Huck House serves each and every day. I will forever be indebted to them for giving me the gift of being a mother. Today, my daughter is a beautiful, loving, funny, smart five-year-old. Truly, I view her birth parents as heroes for making such a difficult choice that ultimately benefited my daughter and gave her the opportunity to thrive in a healthy and loving household.

By supporting Huck House, I feel I am giving a little something back to them – possibly helping others who might be in similar situations now or in the future. I feel lucky to be associated with such an amazing organization.”

Tiffanie Hiibner
Huckleberry House Board Member and Supporter