A recent study by Bellwether Education Partners warned that three million children in the United States may have missed all formal education, remote or in-person, for a year. This is roughly equal to the entire school-aged population in Florida.
The National Education Association reported that a survey by SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions indicates that roughly 423,000 homeless students have slipped through the cracks and are not receiving the support and services they need. The Lord’s Place Youth Services Department is assisting marginalized teens in Palm Beach County defy the odds.
Matthew Williamson, a resident at the Lord’s Place Family Campus who participated in its youth services programs, hasn’t let his past hold him back. Despite unfortunate circumstances leading to Williamson’s mother living on the streets, he spent this year attending virtual school and graduated from Inlet Grove High School on Thursday, June 17. Williamson will attend Palm Beach State College to study marine service technology.
“It feels great to graduate high school. I am the first of my family,” Williamson said.
Fred Weitz, youth education coordinator, and Emily Sardinha, youth education advocate, are always busy planning for the Lord’s Place youth based on their social, academic and emotional needs. They cater to the needs of the “whole child.” The results of their planning helps the youth who have experienced homelessness and suffered the impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic build dreams beyond their imagination for the future. This encompasses career planning as well as college planning for the teens. They believe in dreaming big and instilling that mentality in their youth.
The Lord’s Place Family Campus Youth Services Department had four successful high school graduates in 2020 who all went on to higher education with those dreams in mind. This year, Williamson is one of the two high school graduates in the Youth Services Department who will both successfully matriculate.
The Lord’s Place Youth Services team knows that the youths’ present situation does not define their future story. “Many of our teens who have been homeless, unfortunately, only see what is right in front of them and are in survival mode,” Weitz said. “One of the roles of the youth services team is to remove all obstacles. We tell our teens to try and put aside their current situation and dream about what they want their life to look like five years from now if there was nothing holding them back.”
Williamson has big plans for his future. “My big dream is to help other kids in need and open my own boat shop,” he said. “Ten years from now, I see myself in a big house with my family, my mom, and niece and nephew. I also see myself with a good job and driving a sports car.”
The Lord’s Place Housing Programs provide shelter for homeless men, women and children, and help residents identify the issues that led to their homelessness. The Lord’s Place gives their residents the tools they need to stabilize their lives, while providing safe homes so they can thrive. The Family Campus provides housing for 37 families, and on average has 60 to 80 children living on the campus.
For more than 40 years, the Lord’s Place has been working to break the cycle of homelessness in Palm Beach County through innovative, compassionate and effective services. It provides supportive and graduate housing at 10 locations; operates social enterprises; provides job training and placement services; and has a successful reentry program helping men and women transitioning from incarceration. For more info., visit www.thelordsplace.org or call (561) 494-0125.