Early in 2009, five like-minded women — Mary Oberlin, Cynthia Faust, Sharon Johnston, Judy Smith, and myself — were made aware of the problem of teenage homelessness. This group was appointed by the mayor to research the problem and develop solutions. This group is known as the Advocates for Homeless Teens.
After much research, The Advocates for Homeless Teens, the city of Irving, and The La Buena Vida Foundation formed a partnership to address the problem of teenage homelessness in the city. At that time, La Buena Vida was a new nonprofit organization that wanted to help the youth in Irving, Texas.
Research taught the Advocates that there are 1,000 homeless students enrolled in Irving Independent School District, every year. The number has been increasing annually. Out of that 1,000, 250 of these students are enrolled in high school and a portion of the 250 are considered “unaccompanied youth.”
It became increasing apparent that this group needed our help the most. What is an “unaccompanied youth?” These are students that don’t have any parental support and are trying to complete their high school education. Why they don’t have parents points to the crux of the problem. Some of the reasons they are unaccompanied is: their parents are incarcerated, have died or have drug and alcohol addictions or mental health issues. Sometimes parents are divorced and have new mates or spouses and the new wife or husband do not want the responsibility of children from a previous marriage and often ask them to pick between the new spouse or the child. The child is often not the choice. For all of these reasons, these children have become disposable at a critical point in their lives.
Research tells us that if a child does not graduate from high school, they are more likely to be unemployed, on welfare, food stamps, more likely to commit a crime, and be incarcerated; they have a 75% chance of having illegitimate children and repeating the poverty cycle. The high school diploma tips the scale to prevent all of that from occurring. That is why it is so important.
For the past 5 years, I have acted as the director of the La Buena Vida Residential Program. This was a voluntary position and there was no financial compensation for my service. The success of the students involved in the program was more compensation then I could ever ask for.
Through our relationship with Irving ISD, referrals were sent from the Homeless coordinator or the high school counselors to me. In October 2010, I received a phone call about two boys that were homeless and were trying to finish high school. At that time, La Buena Vida rented a 2-bedroom apartment and we admitted both boys into the program. The residential program was born.
There are strict policies and procedures that were created, through research of effective practices with other residential programs. Students are expected to attend school with zero absences, pass all of their classes, gain employment, and live successfully in the environment created. In turn, they receive assistance with everything to help them thrive. They signed contracts and had many rules to follow.
Since the start the residential program, La Buena Vida House has successful assisted 15 students, accepting five a year into the program. All of them have graduated from high school, with the exception of one student. That is a 99% percent success rate. There are currently 5 students actively enrolled in the program today.
Several students were referred to the program for help and were not accepted into the program. There are several reasons why that would happen. One students was accepted and after admission, choice to resign. This was an unusual case and not the norm. The majority of students that are accepted into the program continue successfully to attain their high school diploma and advance to college, trade school or the military.
One of our students that have been in the program the longest just received the La Buena Vida scholarship to the University of Dallas and is currently attending with a graduation date of May 2017. When he came to La Buena Vida House, he was 16, abandoned, down trodden, with a 1.7 GPA. When he graduated from high school, his GPA was 3.7. He attended North Lake on a full scholarship completed his Associate’s Degree and was accepted at University of Dallas. Someday, he will be a great college professor. He is a completely different person. He will tell you “La Buena Vida saved his life.”
As of October 2015, Mr. Benjamin Williams was hired as the residential case manager. He is living in the newly built La Buena Vida House, homeless shelter for teen males. This facility has the capacity to house 12 male students that are attending high school. Mr. Williams comes to La Buena Vida House with extensive experience working with students that are in these positions. It is with great delight to know Mr. Williams will be onsite with the boys and available 24/7. The success rate and number of students will only increase.
We receive referral from girls that qualify for the La Buena Vida program. We have had 2 graduate from the program and one is currently enrolled. Because we do not have a facility for girls, when we have a referral, we reach out to the community and have had community volunteers agree to sponsor a female student. This program works much like taking on a foreign exchange student. The student lives in the sponsor’s home with them for the rest of their high school education. The sponsor receives support and instruction from La Buena Vida Foundation. The people that volunteer to sponsor a La Buena Vida student to live in their home with them are the true warriors. I have ultimate respect for these people and cannot thank them enough. La Buena Vida hopes to build a home for the females as soon as possible. This is a significant financial responsibility. La Buena Vida House pays for all of the operating costs including employees of the boys’ home. As a young nonprofit, it must increase its financial capacity before it takes on another facility. This is where your help is needed.
I would encourage all people that are reading this letter to support this program in any way possible. If you would like to make a financial contribution, know that your money goes directly to the students. Ms. Joy Goodrum, the Executive Director will be glad to assist you with that matter. You can contact her by email at [email protected] or call her at 214-500-2489. If you want to volunteer, there are many opportunities for that to happen as well. Volunteering should be aligned with your expertise or interest. For example, if you are a great gardener, the students can always learn the benefit of a garden. Mentoring is a powerful activity by itself. Please look into your heart and decide to help a kid in one way or another.
At the end of the day, I think our job on earth is to make the world a better place. It is not to improve a golf score, buy a bigger house or better car. All of that is superficial. If we are going to make any difference we need to assist at the human level. Helping a student enrolled in the La Buena Vida program makes that happen.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at 972-259-7000.
Dr. Lori A. Davis
Newly retired Volunteer Residential Case Manager for the La Buena Vida Program