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Alternative House-- the Abused and Homeless Children's Refuge

Vienna, Virginia

Cause Description:
Alternative House – the Abused and Homeless Children’s Refuge's mission is to transform the lives of children and youth helping them stay safe, make positive decisions, achieve educational success, and overcome personal crises. We offer children, youth and families hope for brighter futures by providing counseling, shelter, neighborhood support and after-school programs. For more than 40 years Alternative House has provided programs and services to meet that goal. We began as a small shelter to help runaway and homeless youth and have grown to a multi-faceted family services agency. Our programs include: The Emergency Shelter for Teenagers serves approximately 200 homeless, runaway and abused youth each year. Young people 13 to 17 years-old may stay at the shelter for three weeks. Services are available 24-house a day, 365 days a year, at no cost to teens or their families. In addition to providing a safe haven, food and clothing to young people, teens receive intense individual counseling, group counseling and crisis stabilization. Whenever possible family counseling is also provided. Of young people who come to us from an intact home, approximately 90% return home with supportive after-care counseling available. Our AYM – Assisting Young Mothers program for pregnant and parenting girls who are homeless was full the day it opened and has a large waiting list. This 18 to 24 month residential program for young women 16 to 24 years old and their babies helps the young women increase their parenting skills, continue their education, receive employment training and save towards the day they will leave the program and establish a home for themselves and their child. Our goal is to help these young women achieve their own goals – of becoming a more nurturing parent and of having the skills needed to become a contributing member of the community. Eight young women and their children participate in the AYM program at any one time. Our newest program is the Homeless Youth Initiative helps young people who are homeless, without the support of a parent or guardian and who are still in high school. Last year at the end of the school year there were 108 young people in this precarious position. Thanks to Federal Stimulus funding, this year we are able to do something to help them. In partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools, Alternative House is leading a three-pronged program to provide housing and other supports. We are recruiting Host Homes (similar to hosting a foreign exchange student), providing rent vouchers and have a small transitional living program that can work with four young women. Program participants are 16 to 21 years old and must be completing high school. For 16 years our Community Youth Outreach Programs have served high-risk and culturally diverse youth in their neighborhoods. Neighborhood-based counselors worked with more than 1,000 young people last year. Our mobile outreach van averages 300 contacts with youth each month providing counseling, referrals and survival supplies in an effort to keep youth in school and away from gang activity. The Culmore Teen Center served more than 250 youth this past year. The drop-in center provides a safe place away from gang recruitment in one of the most heavily gang- infested areas in Fairfax. Counselors at the center along with community volunteers, provide homework help, tutoring, and recreation and field trips, counseling and community service projects. The center also provides meals for those who need it. Similar outreach services are provided at the Franconia Family Resource Center for young people who live in the Springfield area of Fairfax County. Our newest outreach effort is the Safe Youth Project, an after-school program for 4th, 5th and 6th graders. Our first Safe Youth Project in Culmore was so successful that we were able to open a second program in Annandale. The program provides homework help, tutoring, community service opportunities, computer skills, and recreational opportunities. It was opened after police asked Alternative House if we could work with younger youth. Local gangs have started recruiting children as young as 10. Waiting to provide prevention services beginning in middle school could be too late. The Safe Youth Project has exceeded its enrollment projection of 30 youth at each location and provides neighborhood-based services four days a week. Alternative House also offers a national toll- free hotline – 1-800-SAY-TEEN for anyone in need of assistance. Affiliated with the National Runaway Switchboard, the hotline receives an average of 150 calls per month. Free walk-in counseling is also provided for young people in crisis at our Emergency Shelter for Teenagers.

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