Guest Columnist: Jeff DeMario, Chief Executive Officer of Vita Nova
Do you remember turning 18 years old? What a milestone year that is for most youth. Maybe you were graduating high school, or starting college, or maybe it was pride in having your own car. For many young adults it is a time to celebrate because turning 18 is a rite of passage into adulthood, and the start of a new phase of personal and professional contacts, career choices, travel, and many other great things.
For about 2000 youth in Palm Beach County turning 18 begins a period of homelessness. Nearly 20% of these youth have been in foster care and left because they were tired of being a ward of the State. Another 50% of these youth are fleeing some form of abuse either at home, or on the street (Human Trafficking), and they feel being homeless is better than being abused. Then there is another 30% who are thrown out of their house after coming out to their parents as part of the LGBTQ community.
Vita Nova is a non-profit in West Palm Beach that helps remove the homeless label for about 350 youth a year between the ages of 18-25. Vita Nova’s formula for removing homelessness is Education + Housing + Employment = Self Sufficiency. As such, the agency offers programs and services in these three areas to help youth get back on their feet, while surrounding them with a positive network of volunteers and counselors as they navigate the world of adulthood.
Vita Nova is Latin for New Life, and nearly 85% of the youth assisted become successful in the areas of education, housing, and employment after one year of engaging in Vita Nova services. This new life includes helping youth make up for lost ground with a high school diploma, driver’s licenses, obtaining career related employment (or internships), and learning life skills that every adult needs to be successful.
Vita Nova helps youth in one of two main locations. First is the scattered site housing programs. Vita Nova has the capacity to serve over 80 youth with housing. At Vita Nova housing, youth have a chance to learn about living independently, as well as learning essential life skills like cooking, cleaning, money management, and following a lease with the assistance of counselors who support their two years in the program. Residents of Vita Nova pay a nominal program fee each month, and the program is open to youth from foster care, or homeless living in Palm Beach County between the ages 18-25 years old.
The second location where youth are engaged is “the Spot” homeless drop-in center located in the center of West Palm Beach. The Spot is a low barrier, safe place for youth to enter and begin to instantly receive services. Counselors at the Spot can assist with health insurance, employment, homelessness, food, mental health, resource connection, and life skill development.
Would you be where you are today if you were homeless at 18 years old? If not, then we encourage you to learn more about supporting the mission of Vita Nova www.vitanovainc.org.
Jeff DeMario Chief Executive Officer of Vita Nova