New York’s Covenant House is the largest privately-funded charity in the Americas serving homeless, trafficked and runaway young people. IBM’s involvement with Covenant House dates to 1989, when former IBM World Trade Corporation chairman Ralph A. Pfeiffer, Jr. became chairman of the board of the charity. Mark Loughridge, IBM’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Finance and Enterprise Transformation, served on Covenant House International’s board from 2007 to 2009, and Mark J. Hennessy, IBM’s General Manager of Global Business Partners & Midmarket, currently serves on the board. In addition, IBM employees have donated nearly half a million dollars to the charity over the past 25 years, mostly through the company’s annual Employee Charitable Contribution Campaign.
In these challenging economic conditions, discussion of the ways policy makers and the general public can help young people who have nowhere safe to sleep at night has never been more important. To raise awareness of this issue – and to illustrate that at-risk young people can survive and succeed with society’s help – Wiley will publish Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope this October. Covenant House president Kevin Ryan and I co-authored the book, which has a foreword by Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker. Almost Home describes the journeys of young people grappling with issues such as family violence, prostitution, teen parenthood, rejection based on sexual orientation, and aging out of foster care without a family.
In this chronicle of succeeding against all odds, you’ll read about Benjamin – who overcame a childhood of abuse and abandonment, made up nine years of school work in a single year, found success and dignity as a college athlete, and now teaches and counsels at-risk youth; Muriel – who escaped to Covenant House and is now enrolled in college after a lifetime of addiction, depression, and sexual exploitation; and Paulie – a successful kick boxer and community volunteer whose life as a wandering, homeless teenager seemed beyond hope. These young people and others were able to salvage and rebuild their lives with the help of strangers from all different walks of life, many of them at Covenant House. Through their stories, Almost Home encourages a closer look at homeless teens – a group that often remains invisible to the public, even as its numbers reach 1.6 million each year.
Among our recommendations:
- States should extend foster care to age 21, and improve child welfare systems so that abused and neglected young people can find permanent homes quickly
- Various non-profits should provide support for families whose children are sexual minorities to keep them from becoming homeless
- Pimps and users of underage prostitutes should be subject to firmer law enforcement and tougher judicial response
- Philanthropists and community groups should fund enhanced programs to encourage young fathers to be involved in their children’s lives
- Mentors should be available to help guide homeless young people through the challenges of adolescence and early adulthood
Finally, we describe specific ways in which individual citizens can help. Sometimes, having just one person who believes in a kid can make a world of difference.
Tina Kelley, a former New York Times reporter who shared in a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of 9/11, is a staff writer at Covenant House. Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope is available for pre-order, with all author proceeds going toward the outreach and shelter services of Covenant House. The charity operates shelters in 17 cities throughout the United States and Canada.