Hope for youth: Fighting teen homelessness with unconditional love

Creating the Redlands nonprofit, YouthHope, was the scariest thing founder Heidi Mayer has ever done.

But, it was what God wanted her to do.

“It’s not my program, it’s His; it’s God’s program,” Heidi said. “It’s an exciting thing to be serving God exactly where He wants me to be.”

Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, YouthHope opens its doors from 3-6 p.m. and up to 70 teens will show up looking for a meal, for basic necessities like bus passes or grocery cards, and looking for the care and attention each YouthHope volunteer offers freely. On meal nights, YouthHope staff will make their rounds, asking every youth what they need, whether a doctor check-up, food for the weekend or a new shirt for a job interview. YouthHope takes a holistic approach to helping their youth thrive.

“We fed over 1,200 different kids last year. That is a lot. There are a lot of kids who are hurting, struggling, who need help,” Heidi said. “There’s no way we could have done it by ourselves.”

The First Baptist Church of Redlands has been an annual sponsor of YouthHope giving $2,000 last year. One of our members, Erin Estey, brings in dinner one Wednesday a month using some of the money from that fund. YouthHope is a volunteer-based non-profit with only two paid staff. Heidi works for free.

She does it because it’s needed. There were more than 1,400 homeless students from seventh to 12th grade registered in the Redlands Unified School District in 2011, according to YouthHope’s website. These are the teens YouthHope wants to reach.

“If you talk to any of the youth, it’s everything to them. It’s a place to eat; it’s a place to get help; it’s a place to be loved. The kids will tell you, ‘YouthHope saved my life; YouthHope changed my life; YouthHope cares about me when my parents and my family didn’t care about me,’” Heidi said.

So the goal of every staff member and volunteer at YouthHope is to love the youth as Christ loves them.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re dirty; it doesn’t matter if they stink; it doesn’t matter if they say naughty words,” Heidi said. “We love them anyway.”

YouthHope is a sanctuary for teens ages 14-24, a place where there are art supplies, musical instruments, a pool table, a foosball table, racks of donated clothing, caring adults and other teens who know exactly what each one is going through.

There are lots of ways people in the community can join in to help. Every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, volunteers are needed to work on their building in finishing improvements and repairs. Donations are also needed: whether in cash, or in the form of gas cards, bus passes, $5 restaurant gift cards, guys clothing, socks, sleeping bags, or blankets. Anything helps.

“We are able to help our kids,” Heidi said, “because your congregation cares. And that to me is so important.”

-words by Amanda Warner, photo courtesy of YouthHope, printed in the March 2015 issue of the Tapestry.

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