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Horizon House fosters path to independence

10/17/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Holly Beach, who had been homeless after being in foster care, ended up graduating with honors from The University of Akron after taking part in a program called Horizon House through Community Health Center.
Photo courtesy of Community Health Center
GREATER AKRON — At 23, Holly Beach is already a success story.

Beach graduated with honors from The University of Akron this past summer just a few years after essentially being homeless.

“I was in foster care, so when I turned 18 I became homeless,” she said. “I kinda didn’t know where to stay, so I was couch hopping. I stayed at a shelter for a little bit, then finally stayed with my stepsister. It was my senior year [at East High School].”

A caseworker with Summit County Children Services told Beach about Horizon House, a program run by Community Health Center (CHC) and the Ohio Multi-County Development Corporation, which offers housing to young people aged 18-22. Those who are accepted into the program must be working or in school, and in return they receive subsidized rent and support services to help them on the path to independence.

Program Coordinator Joe Scalise said the program began in 2006 after staff at CHC became aware of the number of youths in that age group that were living on the streets. A board member donated homes that could be used, and in a short time the first one opened for females.

“It was all privately funded, not one public cent,” Scalise said. “It was board members that took the motivation to get it together to make it happen.”

One of those board members is Mike Coppola, of Medina, an employee of Brunswick Cos. in Fairlawn.

“We put together ‘ask’ programs where we would invite people and we talked about CHC and what we do and what we were thinking about doing with respect to homeless kids in Summit County,” Coppola said. “We raised about $52,000 in the first year.”

By 2008 a home for males was opened. Coppola said three years into the program a development director was hired and was able to access public funding to combine with private funds to keep the program going.

Scalise said any young person 18-22 that can be documented as in a homeless situation or who is emancipating from foster care meets eligibility for the program. To participate, the youth must be enrolled in school full-time or work a minimum of 20 hours a week.

For Beach, the program allowed her to have a steady place to live while finishing up high school, which she did with honors. She then started taking classes at UA, after receiving a scholarship, before deciding to major in social work as a sophomore.

Residents who successfully complete the program after two years, like Beach, then have the chance to work for Horizon House as a resident adviser. Beach said in that role she helped residents to apply for federal benefits and jobs, as well as help them with learning how to live in a community home environment.

“I think Horizon House was the most challenging position I’ve ever had,” said Beach, who worked for the program for two years. “It has so many layers and is so complex. It has prepared me in so many ways, such as how to handle things if there’s a conflict going on.”

Beach graduated from UA in August with honors with a 3.7 grade point average. In September, she moved to Denver and started a job as a counselor with AmeriCorps at the New America School in Lakewood, Colo.

With the grant she earns for her assignment, she plans to enroll in a master’s degree program at Denver University, she said.

Scalise said about 44 young people have participated in the program since it started. Sixteen have moved on to permanent housing situations.

“Some of them aren’t ready to emancipate, and their stay can be short,” he said. “Then there are others who are ready to go. We try to recruit for success. We are always trying to maximize the potential that is there.”

In some cases, a mental health issue is discovered, and the program helps those participants get the help they need, he added.

“A lot of these young folks have no knowledge of the nuances of adult life,” Scalise said. “We’re constantly trying to educate them on that.”

Coppola said he keeps up with the young people in the program, which receives some funding from two fundraisers that support CHC each year.

“We try to let people know what we’re doing,” Coppola said. “The public needs to know there’s someone out there who is providing shelter for homeless kids.”

He added that he’s proud of all of the young people in the program, especially Beach.

“We’re very proud of that because we took this young lady from a foster home and brought her in and she went to school,” Coppola said. “That’s an accomplishment. We saved one life. And hopefully she’s in the field so she’s out trying to save other lives.”

The CHC accepts donations of cash or items for the program. Officials said most clients enter the program with only their personal belongings, so the organization purchases beds, bedding, towels, toiletries and more for each new resident. During the holiday season, the agency provides gifts for Horizon House residents, as well. Donations or gift cards can be sent to Community Health Center — Horizon House Program, c/o Development Department, 838 Coburn St., Akron, OH 44311. For more information, go to www.commhealthcenter.org or call 330-434-4141.

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