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About 1,200 teens in Springfield are identified as unstably housed, according to the state. In Greene County, 386 children were placed in foster care at least temporarily in 2021. With so many youth at risk, it’s no surprise some fall through the cracks and are homeless. The creation of the YouthConnect Center will give those ages 13-18 a place to go to be connected with services ranging from food and clothes to housing and mental health help.
Renovations at the new YouthConnect Center in downtown Springfield are moving right along. The drywall is up, showers are being installed, the shelving is about done in the food pantry and an artist is scheduled to begin working on a large brightly-colored mural this week.
The YouthConnect Center (usually referred to as the YCC) will open its doors to homeless and at-risk youth in mid-September. A ribbon cutting will be held on Oct. 27.
“There are already youth asking about the space,” said Erin Washburn, YCC’s director, “youth that have gone into other community agencies and asked about when this space is opening. (They are) preparing for school to start and needing somewhere to go after school.”
The YCC is a project of FosterAdopt Connect, a nonprofit agency that offers several programs for foster and adoptive families, the children in foster care and youth who are aging out of the system.
Washburn and FosterAdopt Connect Executive Director Brandi VanAntwerp recently gave the Springfield Daily Citizen a tour of the center and explained the project’s history and services it will provide.
The YCC is at 425 W. McDaniel St., Suite 160.
It all started about three years ago when the Community Foundation of the Ozarks provided funding for an assessment of barriers and gaps within the community for kids in foster care, VanAntwerp explained.
“A collective of people came together to identify what those barriers were,” she said. “This population of youth 15 to 18 was identified as an area of need for further programming for wraparound assistance or almost like case management. We call them navigators. And so that’s where this was born.”
That group not only realized there was a need for more services, but that Missouri’s mandated reporter law needed to be changed so that youth would be more likely to come forward and seek help.
Before, service providers had to make hotline reports when they encountered kids age 16 and older who were not living at home.
Members of that group and staff at FosterAdopt Connect advocated to lawmakers for the passage of House Bill 432, which went into effect last August. Among various provisions, the new law clarified that being unaccompanied or homeless is not in and of itself sufficient reason to report child abuse and neglect if the child is 16 or older.
The group also worked to determine what organization would create and operate a new center or if a new nonprofit would be created. FosterAdopt Connect became that lead agency and secured $500,000 in funding from the state to create the YCC.
The YCC will serve youth ages 13 to 18.
Eventually the center will be able to provide two to three nights of shelter for 16 to 18 years olds while staff will be working to get the teens into a more long-term housing solution or program.
If a teen younger than 16 needs shelter, Washburn said they would likely be referred to Great Circle’s Empowering Youth program.
Creating a one-stop-shop for at-risk and homeless youth
When the YCC opens, youth can come in and do a quick assessment about what services they need, Washburn said.
“It could be laundry, showers, shelter, clothing, food or other referral sources,” she said. “The hope being that it’s a one-stop shop for youth who need those additional resources and referrals.”
Initially, the center will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, but Washburn hopes to be able to expand hours soon.
“We will have staff here earlier in the day so if youth are needing some type of case management, they’ll be able to access the staff that way through planning an appointment the night before,” she said.
There are currently 14 different providers connected with the YCC and will be providing services there ranging from help with substance use disorder, mental health services, parenting education for teen parents as well as the parents of the teen clients.
This means the teen won’t have to figure out how to get to these different service providers scattered throughout Springfield. Instead, those agencies will meet with the teen at the YCC.
Some of the agencies partnering with FosterAdopt Connect for the YCC include: Springfield Public Schools, Burrell Behavioral Health, Jordan Valley Community Health, Boys & Girls Club, Greene County Children’s Division, Greene County Juvenile Office and Community Partnership of the Ozarks.
A youth navigator will be on staff to engage with youth, get their immediate needs met, help with goal setting, job skills and connect them with services such as Burrell or Jordan Valley Community Health Center.
A family navigator will work with youth who are still interacting and involved with their family or living with their family but needing services, Washburn said.
“We can stabilize the youth all we want to,” she added, “but if that family is still unstable, it’s going to fall apart.”
The YCC has a kitchen and dining area. The fridge will be stocked with food the teens can access just as they would if it were their own home. The teens also can use the range and microwave for cooking.
“If they want to come in and eat seven hot dogs, they can come in and eat seven hot dogs,” Washburn said. “We want it to feel really comfortable, fun and safe for them.”
Youth can get two hot meals a day, snacks and backpacks with food they can take with them if needed.
“There’ll be some lockers that they’ll be able to access immediately to kind of keep their belongings put away safe,” Washburn said. “They don’t have to worry about their stuff.”
The center will have a living space with a couch, television and video games. It has bathrooms with showers and laundry facilities, as well as a Sammy’s Window clothing closet.
FosterAdopt Connect has a relatively new clinical program that will give youth coming to the YCC almost immediate access to clinical stabilization there and family therapy — services that can be difficult to access quickly in the community. Stabilization therapy is a single therapy session for someone who is experiencing a crisis while they are seeking long-term services, Washburn explained.
“Very few places can you walk in the door and see a therapist on that day,” she said, “and talk to that therapist about whatever is going on in your life. A lot of the waitlists are several months long.
“The community knows that there’s a need for these young teenagers to have a special, safe place to go where they’re welcomed and not on the street,” Washburn said. “It’s really been an honor to come in and be able to take the idea of that need and then see it from the ground up as this space developed. And I think the community, when they see the work we’re doing, is going to be really impressed and proud this place exists.”
“When I started off with Brian Fogle (president of Community Foundation of the Ozarks) and the assessment that was done, we knew in the community we had Isabel’s House, which serves youth that are 0 to 12,” VanAntwerp said. “We knew we had Rare Breed that can serve 13 to 18, but their ability to provide in-depth intervention with them is limited. And so we knew that gap existed for those youth 13 to 18.
“And that’s why as a collaborative — not just FosterAdopt Connect — but as a collaborative, it was determined this was needed,” she said. “We’re just excited that we get to make a difference.”
The center will also be a place where teens and their parents or guardians can try to work on issues and potentially keep the family together.
The center gets $500,000 a year in a state line-item budget. It also has been awarded a three-year Musgrave Foundation grant for $50,000 a year.
“We still need about $136,000 additional as we go into year two,” VanAntwerp said.
YCC intended to fill gaps in community
The Kitchen Inc.’s Rare Breed Youth Services, located just a few blocks away at 301 N. Main Ave., provides services and food to homeless and at-risk youth ages 13-24. The Rare Breed has been in operation since 2000 and at its current location since 2012.
Asked if the creation of the YCC will change any of the services provided at Rare Breed, Ellen Herbrig, The Kitchen’s Community Development Coordinator, said that Rare Breed staff has already met with FosterAdopt Connect to discuss ways the two organizations can work together to meet the needs of youth in this community.
“Our community is at its best when we work together,” Herbrig wrote in an email, “and we are excited to have more resources available to homeless and at-risk youths.”
Washburn agreed, adding she is working to shape the YCC’s services to complement the Rare Breed’s. That’s one of the reasons the YCC’s hours (3-8 p.m.) are different than Rare Breed’s (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
She pointed to other differences between the two programs.
“We anticipate our program will lend itself to a younger average school aged youth based on the programming being built in,” Washburn said in an email. “Additionally, we will have a family focus and will be offering services to the family as a whole hopefully, intervening before a teen has to spend unaccompanied time on the street or in alternative care.”
FosterAdopt Connect is leasing the roughly 3,000 square foot space near the downtown square, but has plans in the works — a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club — to move into a much bigger space by 2025.
Want to help?
Once the YCC is open, it will need volunteers to make meals. Washburn said she expects the number of youth to start pretty small (maybe about 20 a night at first) but will likely grow as word spreads.
To sign up to make meals, donate items, and volunteer go to this website.
Along with monetary donations, the Sammy’s Window clothing closet inside the YCC will need clothing and hygiene products. If you are looking to donate something small and easy, but can make a huge difference in a youth’s life, pick up a package of new underwear, bras or socks to drop off.
“New underwear,” Washburn said, emphasizing the word new. “Things that are going to make the youth feel proud and worthy. They are worth new socks and underwear.”
To offer help, call FosterAdopt Connect at 417-866-3672.