STORIES OF CHANGE
Our youth have developed connections and friendships amongst themselves that will hopefully last a lifetime. They support each other and are able to share experiences that are not always easy to talk about. With our guidance and support and with each other they feel safe and understood.
If you were touched by this story and want to help Homeless Youth get off the streets, make a donation of any amount at DoorsOfChange.org
Trust is difficult when you’ve experienced trauma and/or lived in constant uncertainty of your environment and the people around you. Many youth seem to be constantly watching their back and looking over their shoulder unwilling to open up when they first walk through our doors for the first time. From being greeted by Joanne asking if anyone has laundry, to talking with our case worker Geny about getting a bus pass, food stamps or other resources, the environment we provide is judgement free, safe and welcoming. We provide a much needed sense of relief to those who don’t know who or what to turn to at any given moment. I’ve found that over the course of a few weeks, youth may go from looking over their shoulder to asking for resources to try and find a job or housing opportunities. Some might feel comfortable enough to open up to volunteers about their past. There’s no reason in the world why a young person should have to experience abandonment and severe trauma, but their willingness to open up proves that there is a very important reason why we provide Doors of Change for young adults. Our program is more than a meal, mentoring music and arts program, it’s a safety net for those in need, a sense of family, reliability and ultimately trust. This trust leads to something beautiful; hope and encouragement to open the door to a new brighter future.
On the surface, Doors of Change is a program that offers hope and resources to a often under-looked segment of the San Diego population, but you might wonder how a typical program is run or how you can help. We invite you to an insider look at a typical program and how this environment inspires change for homeless youth.
Every Thursday and Sunday at The Episcopal Church Center in Ocean Beach between 2:30 and 3pm homeless youth begin to gather for the Doors of Change program. The youth may have heard of our program through our outreach efforts or word of mouth from their friends. Newcomers and program veterans alike sign themselves in when entering the program, often greeted by Joanne Newgard our cheerful program director whom the youth love and respect. Many youth have lovingly called Joanne “momma” over the years.
Our program volunteers (or angels as we love to call them) help set up a tables designated for donated clothes, toiletries, laundry, dog food, water, snacks and an art table with a wide array of art supplies tailored to the art instruction of the day. Vulnerable youth are able to put their guard down and relax for the first time of the day once they walk through the doors. Many youth are accompanied by their dog companions and service animals. Some youth will help volunteers to set up the space for the program. Others will enjoy snacks and water and each other’s company while deciding between the art or music instruction for the day.
Talented musicians who volunteer as our music instructors will set up guitars, mandolins, violins, drums and keyboards in the music room and get ready to rock! The program will often kick off with a quick jam session of a familiar tune to get everyone in the mood to spark creativity and promote an environment of self-discovery. From there participants are encouraged to pair up with a musician for instruction or settle into the activities at the art table.
Homeless youth will typically arrive at the art table seeking peace and quiet, what they walk away with is so much more. Artistic expression can help to heal and empower. Youth can choose to work silently on their own artwork or share emotional connection and build trust with art instructors. The art instructor will choose a project for the day varying from painting to jewelry making or making a dream catcher. Youth often leave the class with art they can work on outside of class or sell if they choose to.
Music instruction can be a confidence building skill that promotes independence as well as discipline. For our homeless youth, music instructors can also serve as mentors who encourage growth and inspire change. Participants choose an instrument and are taught in groups or individually. Those who attend 6 classes of music instruction will earn an instrument of their choice which they can use to perform with and generate income for themselves.
Doors of Change provides many helpful resources that support homeless youth, from social services to mental health care. Our social services can provide the youth with IDs, bus cards, health insurance, food stamps and much more that can be hard to attain as an individual on the streets. We offer outlets for youth to be placed in housing or connect youth with the California Conservation Corps so they can earn a living while they learn skills that will shape their future. Youth who seek these services through Doors of Change are typically looking to lift themselves out of life on the streets. We offer hope that can inspire youth to transform their lives.
At the end of class instruction, the youth clean up their area and get ready for a hot meal prepared by Heartfelt Helpings. Heartfelt Helpings has been providing meals for homeless in San Diego since 2013. We’re so thankful to have amazing local partners who share the same goal to help those in need! Before every meal, Joanne or Jeffrey will lead the group in sharing important announcements and encouraging youth to sign in to every class to earn their instrument or art supplies. The group atmosphere is one of love and encouragement, everyone feels like family. Youth show up often exhausted and discouraged, but leave with positivity and hope. Many will hug to their instructors and thank volunteers before venturing back out onto the streets of Ocean Beach.
The group atmosphere is one of love and encouragement, it feels more like a family than a program especially to our youth who often have had a difficult upbringing. Doors of Change provides so much more than a meal, clothes and resources. We provide an outlet to promote hope and promote a transitional pathway out of adversity for homeless youth in San Diego. If you’d like to get involved and lend a hand, we can always use more Doors of Change angels to volunteer. Common donation items include, clothes, socks, toiletries, blankets and shoes. Donations are used to provide meals, sleeping bags, music instruments or art supplies. If you would like to learn more to contact us here.