Area homeless youth services expand

The Nest rebrands facility, starts host home, job program

The Nest, a branch of The Georgetown Project that assists teens who are either homeless or living in transition, is rebranding itself a year after opening its Host Home.

The Nest Drop-In Center was renamed The Nest Empowerment Center this summer to help more teens feel welcome, said Leslie Janca, executive director of local nonprofit The Georgetown Project.

Were not just focusing on the whole homeless connotation because some kids dont want to come to be considered homeless, she said. We have some basic goals that have not changed since we started. We want to empower kids to be healthyphysically and emotionally.

As part of the change, Janca said teens visiting the center created fliers to hang around Georgetown schools to help their classmates get a better idea of what The Nest actually isa place to hang out.

The center, which moved into the former Richarte High School at 2201 Old Airport Road last year, has a recreation room with a foosball table, televisions and gaming systems. In the future Janca said the project plans to renovate one of its rooms to serve as a boutique for teens to get clothing.

However, beyond the recreational aspect, the center also gives the teens a place to do their homework and eat a warm meal.

A lot of the teens who visit have hardships that affect their daily routine, Janca said. Becca, 16, and Tony, 18, said they visit the empowerment center regularly because it gives them a place to be themselves.

Yesterday I was crying because I had been hurt physically and emotionally, and they helped me with that, Becca said. Im loved here. This is like my family here.

The center operates like a traditional household. There are rules, and the teens are expected to clean up after themselves.

A lot of these kids havent had traditional social skills developmenthow you eat around a dinner table, how you clean up after yourself, Janca said. Not to say that there is bad parenting going on; its that theyve faced a lot of challenges in their short lives.

The Nest also launched the Summer Youth Employment Program this year and paired eight teens with jobs as well as assisted them with resume building, interviewing, and financial management and budgeting.

A gap we identified was youth employment or internships for teens in our community to build work skills and a lot of those soft skills that employers say [teens are] missing, Janca said. We developed partnerships within the community to provide work opportunities. And now they have job experiences and references.

Teens have had internships at places that reflected their interests such as hair salons and the Palace Theater, she said.

Janca said a few of the participants have already applied for jobs, and the programs success reflects potential for future growth.

The Georgetown Project began The Nest in 2011 after five years of studying the issue of homelessness among area youth. Since opening The Nest has helped 99 high school students40 of those during the 201314 school year.

According to The Georgetown Project, more than 200 children in pre-K through 12th grade are qualified as homeless each year in Georgetown ISD.

There are a lot of people in Georgetown that dont know that over half our kids [in GISD] qualify for free and reduced lunches in the district, Janca said. Last year we saw fewer kids who were qualified under the McKinney-Vento Act. That doesnt mean that those kids arent out there, it just means theyre not on a list.

The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children as those lacking fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

In October 2013, The Nest collaborated with STARRY, a service program for at-risk youth based in Round Rock, and opened The Nest Host Home in Georgetown.

The home is open to boys and girls age 17 and younger, Janca said.

If a kid walked in here and had nowhere to go tonight, they could be in our home by the end of the evening, she said.

The house has room for eight guests who can stay for up to 66 days at a time. During this time they will receive supportive services through The Georgetown Project and STARRY, including counseling in both one-on-one and familial settings.

To date, 13 people have stayed in the homenine females and four males.

Janca said The Nest has seen a 95 percent reunification rate between the children and their families; however, if necessary, the child may return to the Host Home.

The goal is a positive, safe place for them, Janca said. If there isnt one, we dont kick them out. ... Were going to make sure theres a safe place for those kids.