As a crisis center providing critical 24/7 care to homeless youth in our community, we are on the front lines of this pandemic. We are committed to keeping our doors open to provide safety, shelter, and support to every young person who comes to us in need.
Covenant House is proud to be a “legacy charity partner” for the Crescent City Classic. In light of our current national emergency, this year’s Classic has transitioned to a VIRTUAL race.
It is with much sadness and tremendous gratitude that the Board of Directors announces Jim Kelly’s departure, this June, as Executive Director of Covenant House.
We cared for more youth last year than ever before in our 32-year history. A total of 943 young people took refuge from the streets and abusive homes, receiving food, clothing, shelter, counseling, case management, life skills, and so much more.
We’re excited to share their successes and challenges as they journey from homelessness to healing to hope-filled independence. Thank you for believing in them – and for your support & prayers.
By Kristin Miller and Sophie Trist
We are expanding our therapy/wellness programs to offer daily sessions with an emphasis on the importance of health & wellness as a therapeutic means to combat anxiety, stress, substance use, and disruptive behavior related to our kids’ histories of abuse. Covenant House recognizes that in order for our residents to succeed in their jobs, school, independent housing, and personal lives we must offer them opportunities to develop skills and tools to lead a healthy lifestyle. We enact a holistic health model focused on physical, social, spiritual, emotional, and occupational well-being. With the help of several incredible partners we have had the ability to expand our current programming to deepen our focus on these six dimensions of wellness.
Upbeat Music Program
Each weekday we give our residents the choice to engage in one or more wellness programs. One of our new and exciting programs is a product of our partnership with UpBeat Academy Foundation. This local, non-profit organization has been working with us weekly since October and specializes in providing youth with the opportunity to create and perform their own electronic dance or hip-hop music.
These classes allow our residents to get real-world experience with music production, while being educated by local DJs and artists, and engaging with new equipment to create their own beats. Music production provides creative outlets for residents to express themselves and establishes healthy relationships with residents, staff, and mentors. Music has been known to be a therapeutic technique and allows our residents to tap into their intellectual, social, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
Youth Camping Trip
To add, we have had the opportunity to take our residents on some eye-opening social outings. Last quarter, we took our trafficking survivors on a three-day camping trip. Our staff go above and beyond to give these wonderful young people experiences that their traumatic childhoods have denied them, helping them work out trust issues and develop healthy relationships with adults who have their best interests at heart. This was a weekend of total relaxation and fun; our youth got the opportunity to get away from the stress of everyday life in the city, sleep late, and just hang out with friends in a completely safe, carefree environment, all things many of us take for granted.
For many of them, it was their first-ever vacation, and they especially loved telling stories and making s’mores by the campfire. For young people accustomed to strict schedules and tight control, getting to relax and make their own schedules was a healing experience. This camping trip was an excellent opportunity for our staff and residents to bond and build trust, which is necessary for the mental and emotional healing of these young people.
On June first, our residents had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Arts and Hearts 5K, presented by Varsity Sports. In preparation for this race, every Tuesday residents and staff joined various local running groups on the Greenway for coaching. Backed by community partners such as Steel Magnolias and event chairs Julie Slick and Susan Opelka, the race was a huge success and our residents enjoyed crossing the finish line in the beautiful Audubon with their brand new gear. Physical activity such as running can have a profound impact on a person’s wellness by reducing stress, improving memory and mood, and helping with sleep. From our track club, our residents can gain a sense of personal accomplishment from finishing the race as well as mental and physical health benefits.
Other Additions to our Programming
Other wellness programs and events we have been blessed to incorporate in our schedules include: Pelican’s Games, various offsite concerts, fitness, zumba, yoga, creativity art, meditation, life skills presentations, mock interviews, spiritual awareness, parenting groups, photography, health discussions, mother and baby resources, and much more. We are grateful to offer such opportunities for our youth and could not do it without the incredible support of our community.
As we transition from May, Mental Health Awareness Month, to June, LGBTQ Pride Month, it is important to recognize the intersectionality between these two important issues. LGBTQ youth, and especially transgender or genderqueer youth, experience unique forms of trauma and adversity. A report by the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall found that LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-25 are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth in the same age bracket. A study by True Colors United found that while 7% of America’s youth population struggles with homelessness, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. LGBTQ youth are far more likely to experience bullying, domestic violence, or discrimination from their own families than their cis-gender and straight peers. Because of these stressors, LGBTQ youth have increased rates of PTSD and are 62% more likely to attempt suicide.
LGBTQ youth may avoid interacting with agencies that serve homeless youth for fear of rejection or discrimination. That’s why Covenant House strives to create a safe, inclusive environment for all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. One-third of the young people we serve identify as LGBTQ. We stress the importance of using a client’s chosen name and pronouns with all staff and volunteers. Doing so is in itself an act of suicide prevention, according to recent research by University of Texas. Many Covenant House staff members attend trainings by True Colors United, an organization whose goal is to end LGBTQ youth homelessness. We sponsor events such as Pride Prom to encourage our young people to embrace all aspects of who they are. Our youth attend Pride events in our community, and we tailor our wellness programs to meet the specific physical and psychological needs of our LGBTQ youth.
For young people who experience higher-than-average rates of homelessness, abuse, sexual assault, and discrimination, Covenant House is a place of refuge, a place where young people experience unconditional love. We recognize that our young people are beautiful and we treat all of the youth who are in our care with the dignity and respect they deserve. Covenant House is committed to being a safe and supportive space for ALL young people, including those who identify as LGBTQ, during Pride and all year round.
Two Generation Program – Supporting Our Young Parents
Written by Sophie Trist
According to the 2018 United Way report, 76% of young single mothers live at or below the ALICE threshold. Many of these young parents and their children become homeless due to substance use disorders, poverty, abuse, or other struggles. In January of 2017, Covenant House created the Two Generation program to help young homeless families achieve stability. In 2018, our Two Gen program served 65 young parents and 94 children. Our wonderful, dedicated Two Gen case manager, Ebonee Craighead, creates an individualized care plan for each family that takes into account the needs of the parent, the needs of the child or children, and the needs of the family as a whole.
Within forty-eight hours of arriving at our crisis center, young families meet with a case manager, and both parents and children receive physical and behavioral health evaluations from our community health partner, Crescent Care. Children’s Hospital Parenting Center provides weekly on-site parenting classes. Parents also take advantage of continuing educational opportunities, as well as job training and financial literacy classes.
This past year, Covenant House has seen an influx of pregnant women. Most of these moms-to-be arrive scared and overwhelmed, with questions about pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare that they’re afraid to ask. Thanks to our partnership with Nurse Nikki, a Family Nurse Practitioner, pregnant women can attend weekly individual and/or group meetings where they can receive information about maintaining health during and after pregnancy, the process of giving birth, breastfeeding, and doula services. Our expectant mothers can hear from a nurse practitioner and a doula, a professional birth companion trained to give physical and emotional support to pregnant women.
The children in our Two Gen program are enrolled in daycare, at our on-site Head Start program run by Catholic Charities, or appropriate grade school. Recent research shows that children’s brains develop more in the first five years than any other time in their lives. A child’s experiences during these first critical years can impact their behavior and learning ability for the rest of their lives. Many children who participate in our Two Gen program (birth to age 6) have endured or witnessed violence, neglect, or substance abuse. Studies indicate that children who have experienced homelessness are more likely to have serious physical and behavioral health problems and lower academic performance. That’s why our Two Gen program ensures that our young children get the emotional and educational support they need to live healthy, happy lives. We also provide opportunities for young families to bond and form positive memories to offset the toxic stress of past experiences. Our young families take trips to the zoo, the park, the Children’s Museum, Disney on Ice, and various movie theaters and casual restaurants.
When they arrive at our doors, our parents and children are often desperate and frightened. Parents may be unsure of how to positively interact with their children, and children may suffer physical and mental health problems. The Two Gen program addresses the unique and complex needs of young families suffering homelessness. We get both parents and children on track for brighter futures.
A Night on the Street
Reflections on the Covenant House Sleep Out
Written by Sophie Trist
This year, I got the opportunity to participate in the seventh annual Sleep Out, a fundraiser to benefit Covenant House, an organization that serves homeless and at-risk youth. I partnered with my best friend, Alex Christian Lucas, to take on the Sleep Out. Together, the two of us managed to raise $12,000 for the homeless youth of New Orleans! The outpouring of kindness and generosity was truly mind-blowing. Fellow college students would hand us $5 and apologize for not being able to give more. We assured everyone that no donation was too small. My partner and I broke two records this year: we had the most donors of any sleeper, and we were the youngest people ever to participate in the on-site sleep out.
One of our donors wrote on our page, “When you stand on the margins, the margins disappear,” a quote attributed to Jesuit priest Father Gregory Boyle, who works with gang members in L.A. During our night on the street, I felt the lines between “us” and the young women and men of Covenant House first blur, then vanish altogether. The Sleep Out isn’t about pretending to be homeless; it is an act of solidarity, of kinship.
Upon arrival, Alex and I got the opportunity to tour Covenant House’s campus. We saw the Crisis Center, where kids are cared for when they first come off the street and learned of Rights of Passage, the transitional living program in which residents receive holistic, individualized support. The beauty of Covenant House is that they don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. They understand that each kid has unique and complex problems, and they see the inherent goodness and value in each young man and woman.
After the tour, the sleepers broke into groups of ten, where we got the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with a couple of residents and a staff member. I was blown away by the courage and resilience of the two young men who shared their stories with us. I didn’t think it was possible for my love and respect for the Covenant House kids to grow, but it did, by leaps and bounds. As a research intern for Covenant House, I read statistics all the time. But words and numbers pale in comparison to hearing the voices of people my age who have endured hardships beyond my understanding.
It was nearly one in the morning by the time Alex and I arranged our cardboard boxes on the sidewalk, crawled into our sleeping bags, and attempted to sleep. One of the pillars of a Jesuit education is to find God in all things. Lying on that cold cement, listening to cars rumble past, I truly felt the presence of God. I tried to imagine what sleeping out in the cold would be like without a clean, unused box, a nice sleeping bag, and a warm jacket. I tried to imagine how terrifying it would be to sleep on a street that wasn’t cordoned off and patrolled by four police officers, not knowing if the people walking past were friends or foes. Like my small-group conversation with the two young men earlier in the night, sleeping out deepened my emotional and spiritual kinship with youth who suffer homelessness.
On the way back to school the next morning, Alex said, “Sophie, that was life-changing.” Life-changing is the only word that describes my Sleep Out experience, and it feels inadequate. During this one night of encounter and unity, I felt like judges, civic leaders, college students, and homeless young people became one family. We slept out to say, “We must do better by these young men and women.” We slept out because we refuse to abandon our brothers and sisters. We slept out because there is beauty and dignity in each person, no matter what they have done or experienced. We slept out because we are all God’s children, called to live together in perfect love.
Sophie Trist has been totally blind since birth, but she’s never let that stop her from doing what needs getting done using alternative techniques like braille and a talking computer.
Sophie is a junior in the Honors program at Loyola University New Orleans, where she’s majoring in English with a concentration in writing. Her dream is to obtain an MFA in creative writing and become an English professor, as well as write novels of her own. Her other hobbies include listening to country music, hanging out with family and friends, playing with her three dogs, and reading every book she can get her hands on.
Sophie was deeply impacted by the documentary “Shelter,” and knew she wanted to work at Covenant House the moment she watched it. Working with the research and grant writing team has engaged two of Sophie’s greatest passions: learning new ways and styles of writing, and working for social justice in her community.
Widening Our Approach
Over Covenant House’s 30 years of working with New Orleans’ at-risk youth, we have learned how critically important wellness is to our residents’ recoveries.
One of the most systemic challenges facing New Orleans is the serious behavioral health problems of our young people. Sadly, 85% of the youth Covenant House cares for have experienced severe trauma or PTSD. Among our residents, 90% have been physically and/or sexually abused, 25% are survivors of trafficking/sexual labor, 40% have active substance addictions, and 40% of our young men were previously incarcerated.
Wellness is truly the foundation for our young people’s success, ensuring they have the internal resources to draw on when they face future life hardships. When youth have healthy wellness practices, they are more equipped to overcome adversity and continue to heal and thrive.
This fall, we are taking definitive steps to do more for our residents. Thanks to Serve Louisiana, we are excited to welcome our new Wellness and Volunteer Events Coordinator, Kristin Miller, to our team.
Kristin will be serving full-time to expand our wellness programming for our residents, ensuring that all of our wellness instructors are trained in trauma-informed care. With Kristin’s help, we will be able to provide more robust programming for mental health and wellness specifically geared toward our residents dealing with behavioral health, substance abuse, and trauma. Much like a hospital, our care doesn’t stop at the emergency room. Our new program will provide our residents with a stronger foundation for long-term success through a full-bodied slate of individual and group wellness activities.
Are you a certified yoga instructor? Do you lead guided meditations? Contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can get involved in our Wellness Program.
Kristin is a Wisconsin native and has engaged in several public health initiatives. Recent undergraduate from University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a degree in Public Health & Community Health Education and minor in Biology, she is passionate about providing holistic, preventative health programs. She has experience in garden and nutrition program planning, implementing, and evaluating and is working to achieve her Community Health Education Specialist (CHES) and yoga certification.
In her free time, she enjoys being active outside and exploring the city. She is excited to work along great staff and volunteers to enhance the wellness and engagement opportunities for our incredible residents.
Serve Louisiana is Louisiana’s longest-running AmeriCorps program and one of more than 400 AmeriCorps National Service programs across the U.S. Each service year, we partner talented young leaders with nonprofits, public schools, grassroots efforts and community initiatives in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Serve Louisiana members work full-time for 11 months to help our partner organizations build greater capacity to serve local children, families and communities.
You can learn more about this service-learning program at www.servelouisiana.org.
Covenant House NOLA
CHNOLA is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Much more than “just a shelter,” we provide supportive counseling and the tools needed to help our youth become independent, productive members of our community.