You’ll see a word repeating a lot throughout this blog – “home.”
The concept of home is central to the vision of ProKids. I’ve also inadvertently built a career around it.
My background is in public health and my first professional role as a fledgling adult was at the Fenway Institute in Boston. There, I worked to develop education materials and evaluation tools for medical professionals striving to be better “medical homes” to LGBTQ+ patients – a concept developed in the early 2000s as a way to improve outcomes and cost efficiency in the medical field. I had, and continue to have, a lot of passion around this area of work. I knew what it meant to receive competent care and I wanted patients like myself to experience that. But, to be honest, I didn’t think much of what “home” truly meant in this context.
A few years passed in Boston and I got a call one day about a new project starting up in Cincinnati. The U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development had begun pilot projects to develop new approaches to address LGBTQ youth homelessness in two cities: Houston and Cincinnati.
The program was developed because LGBTQ youth are dramatically overrepresented in the homeless population. An old colleague of mine was heading up the project and wanted to know if I would join the team. After a few calls, I found myself moving to Cincinnati. I began working on the program called “Host Homes,” where community volunteers are recruited, vetted, and trained to provide housing to previously homeless LGBTQ young adults. At the time, there were only a few programs like this across the country; not much was known about what made a program like this successful. I initially approached this new work as I had been trained to – look at some data and resources, use some project management, apply my learnings and execute the task. I was doing the work, but I kept my emotional distance.
One day, shortly after the program got started, I was driving a new client to a house to meet a volunteer who might host this young woman. On the drive to the house, the young woman was asking where she should go after school and before the volunteer got home. I was confused by the question and replied that she would have a key to the house. It was going to be her home while she stayed there, and she was able to come and go as she pleased.
A smile came across the girls face as she soaked that in: she would have a key to a home, a place to call her own. The gravity hit me in that moment. I had been taking the non-tangible aspects of home for granted. What I had failed to see was that the data, policies and procedures that had built this project, while important, were not the heart of the project. The young woman in my car didn’t care about those things. She cared about belonging somewhere. She cared about being warm after school. She cared about having a community of people looking out for her best interests. I quickly began to think more critically about the concept of home.
In 2018, after getting the Host Homes program launched, I had the opportunity to move to ProKids where I am in charge of our training and education efforts. The team I lead trains people to advocate for kids who are unable to take home for granted.
In child protection, and in the conversations we have about creating safety for kids, we often get mired down in the data, policies and procedures. These are important things to talk about. But what grounds me and my work at ProKids is keeping at the center the child who has been abused or neglected. That child isn’t thinking about data, policies or procedures. That child is thinking about home. They are thinking about when they are going to feel like they belong somewhere. When they will feel loved. And when they will feel supported by the adults in their life.