COVENANT HOUSE BY THE NUMBERS:
AFTER THEY WALKED THROUGH OUR DOORS LAST YEAR…
1010 youth were served in residents
44,895 nights of shelter were provided
167,535 meals were served
101 youth advanced their education
28 babies were born into a loving home
2841 youth were served by outreach
962 medical visits were offered
199 youth obtained employment
182 youth moved to independence
125 youth lived with us each night
BEFORE THEY WALKED THROUGH OUR DOORS LAST YEAR…
47% had been in foster care
44% reported physical abuse as children
35% reported sexual abuse as children
33% had been hospitalized because of mental illness
89% were unemployed
51% hadn't graduated high school
19% were enrolled in school
35% required treatment for a chronic medical condition
81% had lost someone in their immediate family to death
12% had lost someone close to them to murder
Our kids find and maintain employment.
After being rejected by employer after employer for her nonexistent work history and poor literacy skills, Kimia began working at the airport and has held her job for more than six months.
Our kids go to college.
Leonard studied every night to earn his GED while working full-time and living in our apartment program. He began college and finished his first year with a 3.87 GPA.
Our kids move into their own apartments.
Carey lived in our Rights of Passage program for a year and saved every cent he could. He moved into his own apartment with $5200 in the bank.
Our kids reunify with their families.
Jackson's mother couldn't handle him any longer, kicking him out of the house until he stops selling drugs and begins school. We helped him to do both and provided them with family counseling.
Our kids step up to their parenting responsibilities.
Crystal moved into our mothers and babies program, delivered her daughter and learned how to be a good mom. She's now gained custody of her 14-year-old sister and is raising her as well.
Our kids stop using drugs.
Smart, athletic and charming, Darnell convinced himself and everyone else he did not have a drug problem, until he lost job after job. He attended our drug treatment program and stopped using drugs to numb his pain for the first time in five years.
| IMPACT STATEWIDE
State of Street Kids in New Jersey:
Statistics Regarding New Jersey's At-Risk Youth and Stories from Those We Have Served
• 12% of our state's 18-24 year-olds live in poverty
• Since 2002, the percentage of 18-24 year-olds living in poverty has increased by 10%
James' mother was dying of AIDS, and his father was in jail. He had two choices – steal food or go to bed hungry.
• The number of individuals aging out of foster care increased by 30% from 2001-2005
• 30% of the kids in our care have been in their state's foster care system and left with no where to turn on their 18th birthdays. When his mother's addiction caused her to lose custody of him, Kenny spent seven years in foster care living in 19 different homes. When he was lucky, he was ignored; too often, he was abused. On his eighteenth birthday, the last foster home told him it was time to leave, and he was completely on his own.
Abuse and Neglect
• 70% of kids living on the streets report a history of physical or sexual abuse
Shania was abused by every man in her life – her father, her mother's boyfriends, her uncle, her neighbors. Her only way to stop it was to gain 80 pounds and keep completely to herself.
• Nearly 84% of high school seniors report that they could easily obtain illegal drugs, and over 31% reported using marijuana in the last year. After his father left home, Nicholas started using drugs to dull the pain. After years of escalating drug use, his mother felt powerless and kicked him out of the house.
• 18-24 year olds account for nearly one third of all arrests in our state. Learning disabled but physically strong, Louis joined a gang to feel safe in his tough neighborhood. He stole cars, sold drugs and robbed people – carrying a gun wherever he went.
• The percentage of New Jersey adolescents experiencing mental health distress increased 143%. Like his mom, Michael is severely bipolar. He was put into state care and bounced from home to home – no one could care for him. He came to Covenant House, wholly unable to function independently and on the verge of suicide.
• One in eight 18-24 year olds in New Jersey is a high school drop-out. While living on a friend's sofa after her mom abandoned her for a new boyfriend, Maya scored 1350 on her SATs. At the other end of the spectrum, Jamal graduated from high school – with the ability to read at the first-grade level.
• 47% of all births to unmarried women occur in the 18-24 age range. When Amanda became pregnant during her second semester of college, her frustrated mother – and the baby's father – refused to have any more contact with her. All alone, she dropped out of school and lost her housing.
• 16% of all 18-24 year olds report are uninsured. Tyrell suffered from debilitating headaches all his life but never received the medical attention he needed to diagnose the cause.
Sixteen-year-old William May was on the Atlantic City Boardwalk for one purpose that day: to rob people. A priest walked up to him and asked if he was hungry. Skeptical but curious, he followed the priest to a storefront property on St. James Place where he was given a bag lunch and invited to sit awhile and play board games. That day was May's introduction to Covenant House.
May, or "Melquan" as he is affectionately known, grew up locally in a family fraught with domestic violence, drug abuse, and lots of anger. By the time he came to Covenant House, he had been in and out of foster homes, living in a crack house, disowned by part of his family, and left to fend for himself. He didn't trust anyone - and wasn't about to trust some priest who he'd just met on the boardwalk.
As the weeks and months went by, friends of Melquan would say to him, "Hey! That priest came around looking for you." That priest, Father Steven Siniari, began to build a relationship with Melquan. He visited his family and kept after Melquan, urging him to make goals and plans…in short, and he lived out the mission of Covenant House to a hurting kid.
"Once I saw his love was all around, not just me but all the other kids too, that's what made me trust him. He gave me the tools, but I had to do the work. No matter how much I messed up, he'd say, 'let's start over.'"
Melquan parted ways with Covenant House for a few years. During that time, he began a music career and worked with the youth in his community. One day he ran into Alex Siniari, Father Steve's son, who was working Street Outreach. Melquan was invited to come speak to the graduating youth of Rights of Passage at a ceremony a week later. Soon after, he began volunteering on a regular basis. He was then hired as a part-time worker, then full-time, and is now Senior Youth Advisor.
Recently, a youth named Ali came to Covenant House. "I could tell he wanted a friend but didn't trust anybody," Melquan said. "I was so persistent in trying to get him to open up. I could tell he'd been through a lot, the same way I had. So for three weeks, everyday, I'd talk to him. In the beginning, he'd give me just one or two words, but I kept staying on him. I spent time with him…I learned to read his face and the way he talked so I could tell if he was having a good day or a bad day." The investment paid off one day when Ali broke down crying and shared with Melquan about his past, his family life, his involvement with gangs, the heavy burden of guilt he carried over past wrongs, and other hardships he's been through. Ali said he finally found the love he never had through Melquan at Covenant House, just as Melquan had found that love through Father Steve.
"I learned to love from him," Melquan says. "Ain't nobody ever loved me like that."
Some might say he had challenges to overcome from the day he was born. At birth, Lenwood had too much fluid in his brain, so doctors had to insert a tube from the top of his head to his stomach. The scar still remains on his body indicating where the surgery took place twenty something years ago, when he was just an innocent baby. The emotional scars run much deeper, a product of parents who were unable to care for him most of his life. His grandmother took him in, but her instructions were clear, he either had to go to school or leave the house. Misguided and rebellious, he chose the latter, so he moved to an adult shelter. The experience was so unpleasant that he barely lasted a month. The place was filthy, rat infested, inhabited by drug addicts and bedbugs. He remembered there were "fiends everywhere, man oh man...it was rough because people were always fighting." He knew that he would not survive for very long so he started to explore other options.
Lenwood Finds Covenant House
With his back against the wall, nowhere to go and no parents to care for him, he had a flashback from his earlier years of the number 1-800-999-9999, the Covenant House Nine Line. He used to prank call that number and hang up. This time it wasn't a prank call; he actually listened and jotted down the address. He also heard had about this "safe place for kids downtown" from one of his former neighbors. It turned out this "place for kids" of which his neighbor spoke and the address for Covenant House that he obtained from the Nineline was the same.
"At first, I didn't like it; I really didn't like the rules, the structure or the people…it wasn't like I didn't appreciate the meals and the clean bed but I wanted to do things my own way so I acted out and was rude to staff..."which eventually led to him being discharged. He took the money he saved while living at the Crisis Center and moved into his own apartment. He then realized that he wasn't making enough at his minimum wage job to pay all the bills and keep a roof over his head. He knew that Covenant House had an open door policy, so even if "you messed up; they still take you back, time and time again." This time around, he was ready, and willing to harness his latent potential. While enrolled in school, Lenwood got certified in business administration and found his passion for numbers and accounting.
Lenwood was among the first group of residents to graduate from the Rights of Passage program in Newark. While at Covenant House, he formed life long relationships with several staff members, including Gwendolyn Ross (known to all as "Momma Gwen"), the vocational specialist who was instrumental in getting him to Job Corps, back in school and the person he credits along with Covenant House staff for always having faith in him. He graduated with honors from Essex County College in May 2008.
Today, Lenwood is a full time student at Rutgers University, where he is studying accounting, with the goal of becoming a CPA for a public accounting firm. In addition to school, he also works two jobs and is an intern at Covenant House International, where he is a data entry clerk for the Nineline. The days are long and he sometimes finds it difficult to juggle class and work but Lenwood is focused.
Lenwood is back at Covenant House, but this time he is on the other side, providing the help that he once received. He is always willing to talk to current residents in Momma Gwen's world of work class and share his story. He encourages today's youth to follow their dreams, just like he is already doing.