A first success story should soon come just nine months into the work of Payson’s nonprofit that helps high school students without parents find homes.
A handful of families, ranging from 40-somethings with teenagers of their own to 70-year-old empty nesters, have stepped forward, willing to donate time, energy and money to help Payson’s most vulnerable youths.
“To me, it’s kind of like a sub-culture that nobody knows exists,” said Pastor Richard Richey with Payson First Church of the Nazarene — “students who have fallen through the cracks.”
Payson’s number of homeless students has risen over the past few years, and now more than 400 local students qualify as homeless.
Most of those students live doubled-up with another family, but about 10 high school students have no family, nor home.
Kids end up “unaccompanied” for various reasons, said district homeless advocate Allic Bales. Some students were in foster care, which they exit upon turning 18, even if still enrolled in high school.
Sometimes, parents kick their kids out of the house. “It’s not necessarily that the kids were doing anything wrong,” said Bales.
Some of the unaccompanied youths have temporary housing, but Bales said three students are in immediate need of a place to stay.
Richey hopes to place the first student by Thanksgiving.
“Our primary focus is the older students that are not under CPS (Child Protective Services) care, that don’t qualify for the foster care system,” said Richey. “They are completely on their own.” Selected students must also want to finish school.
Over the past nine months, the group has met every two weeks, organizing into a nonprofit, finding the host families that will fulfill the group’s mission and developing the policies and procedures that will guide the placement process.
Last November, the school district organized a homeless summit during which people discussed the needs of homeless students and possible solutions.
Following that meeting, district officials met with local faith leaders, and the group, called Payson Assisting Displaced Students (PADS), started. Although rising from the faith community, the group works closely with the school district. Bales, for instance, sits on the PADS board.
Richey said the group’s board has spent an incredible amount of time organizing so that local kids without parents can find welcoming homes to finish their high school careers.
Volunteers have stepped forward with their talents such as a local accountant who helps the group track finances and a certified foster family trainer who will train the families recruited by PADS. Even the Payson Police Department has offered to fingerprint applicants at a reduced fee, said Richey.
“We can’t solve all 400 and some odd homeless students, but we can certainly help out these older students who want to stay in school,” said Richey. “That’s our goal.”
The rigorous application process includes a background check for the family and a review of its finances. Then, the family members will receive training to help them navigate the odd world of welcoming an unrelated teenager into the home.
Once matched up, the child will enter the host family’s home for a two- or three-day trial period to ensure a good fit. The child must also fill out an application form, and his parents, if searchable, must sign a permission slip to avoid legal problems.
“We’re working hard to try to get the best placement,” said Richey. However, the small pool of available families will limit options.
Both host families and students have behavior guidelines to follow, borrowed from official foster guidelines.
“We wanted it to be a first-rate program,” said Richey.
Although PADS will fund-raise to offset some of the related costs, families must pay for the child’s expenses.
“We’re not going to be able to pay the families for what they do,” said Richey. He hopes that PADS money will help pay a student’s fees if he wants to play sports or take piano lessons, for example.
The group is also searching for dentists and doctors willing to donate services, as well as those experienced in counseling.
PADS is still searching for families willing to host children, and is accepting donations.
For more information, call Roger Kreimeyer at 468-1365 or Rodney Ross at 468-8157.