September 23, 2014
Thanks to a nonprofit organization and shelter, homeless youth in Tampa Bay have a place to call home and motivation to succeed.
Starting Right, Now (SRN) takes in youth who are unaccompanied (living without a parent or guardian) who may be couch hopping or staying with friends, but have no permanent place to call home. The youth are in this position through no fault of their own and are forced to leave their family due to violence, drugs, death or other circumstances.
The program basically does everything a parent would do for the child — studies with them, pays for things like yearbooks or sports, and even makes them clean their room and learn other responsibilities. Only those who truly want to get back on their feet can participate. Kids are often referred by a school social worker, and then must complete an interview. SRN looks for resiliency, determination and a true desire to succeed, making sure participants will truly take advantage of the support.
“It’s completely life changing,” says Vicki Sokolik, founder and executive director for SRN. “But, it’s not easy. You have to be a kid who wants to completely change your life. We’re asking you to step up in every manner.”
For the past four years, 100 percent of participants have succeeded in the program and moved on to their next goal, which can be a military career, vocational training or higher education, which accounts for 95 percent of participants. One student graduated from the University of Central Florida and is now enrolled at American University in the second year of law school. Another is attending the University of Florida and plans to go to medical school.
SNR recently received a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit charitable grant. The funds will allow them to double their current occupancy, allowing them to serve up to 300 children. The upper level of their building will be renovated to accommodate more bedrooms and bathrooms. They also plan to open a new facility in Pinellas County. Humana also provides mentors, which are a large component of the program’s success.
The program is 100% privately funded, and is fortunate to have tremendous support from the community, including in-kind services from dentists and doctors. The current building being was donated by Hillsborough County.
Eventually, SRN plans to expand to the entire State of Florida.