“Break the cycle of family homelessness.” This is ForKids' anthem; a non-profit founded by concerned residents in the Norfolk, Virginia over two decades ago. The organization not only provides adequate shelter, counseling and education, they provide hope. Beliefnet connected with Chief Development Officer Bill Young, who joined ForKids in 2009. Young shared that his team works to create stability using a “multi-pronged approach” that helps people rebuild their lives.
How does ForKids fight poverty and homelessness in the community?
ForKids takes a multi-pronged approach to address the multitude of complications caused by homelessness and poverty. To address immediate needs ForKids provides housing and a roof over our families’ heads. Further ForKids provides educational services for both children and adults to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Finally, ForKids provides the necessary mental health counseling, medical case management, financial literacy classes and other services necessary to stabilize our families in the community.
ForKids has been operating the charity for over 20 years. What has been the key to the charity’s success?
ForKids’ success has been its relentless commitment to mission coupled with constant innovation in the way we go about meeting that mission. This combination has allowed ForKids to be both efficient and effective and has drawn supporters from across the community to provide support in the form of time, talents and treasure.
There are three main components in helping a family become more economically stabilized, [such as] housing, education, and clinical services. Why are all three of these necessary to help families become more self-sufficient in the market place?
ForKids’ mission is to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for families and children. The data shows that education is the key to making that happen but to succeed in educational outcomes a child needs a stable home environment. That’s where housing and clinical services come in. Without stable housing, a child will never succeed in school as they are bouncing from place to place and school to school, falling further and further behind. In the same way, an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness will derail any efforts for a family to stabilize. While success in education is the key to what we do, the only way that we can achieve that success is to make sure that housing and clinical needs are addressed for our families.
Are you seeing an increase in homeless families in the area because of the recession?
Absolutely. Homelessness tends to be a lagging indicator as families use up any savings or other resources before being stuck without a stable residence. Our calls for assistance increased significantly over the past several years and unfortunately the shelter system is overwhelmed by the need and is virtually always at capacity. While there are certainly signs that the broader economy is recovering to a degree and our calls for assistance are leveling out, the recovery has not significantly impacted families in deep poverty.
ForKids operates a thrift shop, Good Mojo. How did this come about and has this helped bring more awareness to the community about your cause?
When families come to ForKids, they typically have nothing in the way of material possessions. Most have been lost through countless moves and thus when they leave ForKids and move into an apartment they have nothing. Unfortunately ForKids simply did not have the space or the manpower to sort and distribute basic household goods even if they were donated. Good Mojo provides ForKids with the space, the manpower and a truck to accept, sort, and distribute household items donated by the community. To do this in a financially sustainable way we are open to the public. One great way you can support ForKids is to shop the great deals at Good Mojo.
What can the average person do to combat homelessness?
On the back of our brochure it says Donate, Volunteer, Advocate and Shop at Good Mojo. That says it all. Give financially or provide us with necessary supplies to meet our mission. Volunteer your time to tutor, cut the grass, work the front desk, or sort clothing at Good Mojo. Advocate by telling your friends and associates that family homelessness is a problem that we can and should address in each of our communities. And finally, shop ‘til you drop at Good Mojo. Every purchase is directly helping the homeless families of ForKids.
Can a family be adopted or sponsored?
We are careful not to exploit or label our families by creating an adoption program as they are already experiencing the trauma of homelessness and poverty and we want to be careful about objectifying them. So rather than adopting a family, we ask our community to Adopt a Room at our emergency shelter by making a financial contribution and decorating a room at the shelter to make it more welcoming. We provide lots of opportunities to participate in the lives of our families by volunteering and we provide opportunities for our supporters to target their contributions towards programs that are particularly meaningful for them.
Are there any success stories that you can share?
We recently held the 2nd Annual ForKids Phoenix Awards and we honored two past clients that have overcome the cycle of homelessness and poverty through their incredible perseverance and the support of ForKids.
Stories like this are the reason ForKids exists:
Few people know what it means to give sacrificially. Geneva struggled with homelessness and other issues related to poverty, but she refused to accept a dim future for her children. Despite fighting cancer for over a decade and being unable to work, Geneva refused to become a statistic. With the support of ForKids and the services at our Haven House emergency shelter, Geneva now owns the home that she shares with her two children, who are both in the midst of pursuing their college degrees. As we recognize her today, Geneva has broken the cycle for herself, her children, and for her nieces and nephews!
After multiple bouts of homelessness and educational setbacks, William persevered with ForKids by his side. He applied himself every day since the 5th grade at ForKids’ Hot Meals & Homework tutoring program and despite two visits to ForKids’ Haven House emergency shelter, he overcame the immense odds working against him. William graduated from high school and started at Norfolk State University this fall. William broke the cycle!
What do you want the public to know about ForKids?
In short, family homelessness is a big problem in Hampton Roads and across the country and ForKids is an efficient and effective solution that relies on the community’s support to make that solution a reality. Every one of us can and should do our part to make sure that family homelessness is not permitted to persist in our communities. It is a solvable problem and ForKids is a big part of that solution.