History

Origin Story

In 2005, Vicki Sokolik began mentoring a homeless high schooler she was connected to through the Hillsborough County School District. Vicki helped this student secure housing, gain employment, become financially literate, graduate high school, and complete college applications and scholarships. Today, eighteen years later, this student has a graduate degree and is gainfully employed with benefits.

After years of helping one student at a time, with great success, Vicki was approached by Mayor Pam Iorio to create a citywide nonprofit, thus the founding of Starting Right, Now (SRN). For fifteen years, SRN has been removing barriers for unaccompanied homeless youth – youth unhoused, not living with a parent/guardian, and not in foster care — to cultivate long-term well-being and self-sufficiency. Unaccompanied homeless youth (aged 15-19) are referred to SRN by Hillsborough or Pinellas high schools or community partners. SRN fulfills physiological/safety needs (food, shelter, etc.) first, then engages youth holistic programming.

Vicki has testified at Florida congress to pass ten bills she co-authored/amended protecting unaccompanied youth statewide. Florida’s COO for Government Operations appointed Vicki to serve on the Independent Living Services Advisory Council.

Vicki with graduating seniors

Awards and Recognition

  • Junior League of Tampa Bay 1926 Legacy Award (2022)
  • American Psychiatry Association Award for Advancing Minority Mental Health (2022)
  • Florida Blue Sapphire Award (2021)
  • Regional Finalist, Guidewell Innovation Reshaping Health Access (2020)
  • George W. Bush Point of Light Award (2020)
  • AARP Purpose Prize Fellow (2019)
  • The Foundation for the Improvement of Justice’ Paul H. Chapman Gold Medal  (2019)
  • CNN Hero (2019)
  • DeBartolo Family Foundation Spirit of Humanity Award (2019)
  • WEDU Be More Awards – Nonprofit of the Year (first ever to win twice) (2018)
  • Strikeout Campaign Recipient, Tampa Bay Rays Baseball (2017, 2018)
  • Suntrust Lighting the Way Awards (2017)
  • Humana Communities Benefit, Tampa Bay (2014)
  • Florida Children’s First Advocate Award (2013)
  • Bank of America, Neighborhood Builders Program Award (2012)
  • WEDU Be More Awards – Nonprofit of the Year (2012)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning Community Heroes Award (2011)
  • Bank of America Local Hero (2010)
  • Sertoma Club Volunteer Award (2010)

Book

Vicki authored If You See Them: Young, Unhoused, and Alone in America, the remarkable story of her work on the frontlines advocating for unaccompanied homeless youth. If You See Them is a powerful examination of the issue of youth homelessness. An inspiring account of grassroots action and social justice, it also gives voice to the youth themselves, who tell their own stories.

“These unforgettable, deeply moving, all-too-true stories amount to an urgent call to action.” – Robert Kolker, author of New York Times bestseller Hidden Valley Road

“Helping traumatized teenagers with no homes or functional parents is hard, complicated, maddening work, but Vicki Sokolik won’t take no for an answer. Her zealous, sometimes maddening, but ultimately heroic persistence turns out to be just what it takes to overcome the defenses of her young clients and push them, struggling, into a better life.’ – Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning

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