This semester, Covenant House is developing a community partnership with Opportunities Academy, a New Orleans school that trains and empowers students with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22.
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 email@example.com 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.
Our Executive Director, Jim Kelly, received this letter after a group of students attended a SHELTER screening at Covenant House. The author of the letter, Sophie Trist, went on to become a summer intern at Covenant House. You can read her bio at the end of the letter.
I’ve seen a lot of really well-done, powerful documentaries about hard topics. Many of them have affected me, but I don’t think any of them have impacted me the way SHELTER did. The film was a completely immersive experience. There was no polished narration overlaying the kids’ experiences. There was no barrier between the viewer and those featured in the film. The kids’ stories spoke for themselves. I love the fact that SHELTER does not shy away from things that might offend certain viewers, such as profanity and gender identity. These things are reality, and since they are issues faced by abused and impoverished kids, we can’t afford to turn away from them.
As each kid’s story emerged, I felt like I was getting to know them. This was especially true for Elizabeth. I could’ve passed her a million times on the streets of the French Quarter. I’m ashamed to admit that when I encounter someone on the street talking or singing to themselves, my first instinct is to hurriedly walk away. Coming from a financially comfortable family in the suburbs, I’m isolated from abuse, mental illness, drugs, and poverty— the issues thousands of kids across America and in my own city have dealt with since they were born. I knew academically that there were young people suffering in New Orleans, kids my age or younger cast out from their families or forced into human trafficking. But it’s one thing to know it and quite another to feel it. For me, SHELTER made my academic knowledge a reality. It broke open the bubble in which I’ve lived my life.
One of the most poignant scenes for me (it almost brought me to tears) was when the education specialist at Covenant House, showed one of the residents a bunch of flash cards with simple words like “wide” and “quietly” written on them. The girl, who’d gone as far as tenth grade in the New Orleans public school system, was illiterate. The whole time she was trying and failing to read, she was weeping. How a kid can go all the way to tenth grade without being able to read boggles my mind. I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream, “How could this happen?” How could this happen in a city just forty-five minutes away from where I received a quality education with compassionate, supportive teachers and all the textbooks and materials I could ask for? As a voracious reader who devours several books a month, my heart broke for her.
Seeing SHELTER reinforced in a big way my conviction that we have to do better! Our education system has to do better. Our mental health care system has to do better. Our justice system has to do better. Jesus once said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.” The kids featured in this documentary—and the thousands of others like them across this great country of ours—are our brothers and sisters. Each one of them is unique and valuable. Each of them deserves a firm but loving hand. Each of them has a story that deserves to be told.
SHELTER is a film that every person, young or old, should watch at least once. Hopefully, it will burst their bubbles, as it did mine. Hopefully, it will foster a sense of social responsibility and love for the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, the abused. Hopefully, it will make people, like me, think twice when passing a homeless man, woman, or child on the street.
Please watch SHELTER, and share with family and friends.
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.
Covenant House is blessed to have talented interns on our team every semester. This week we wanted to highlight Kiara Cruz, our exceptional intern working on our Two Generation program!
From the first day of meeting Kiara, Two Generation Program Manager Ebonee knew that Kiara would be a great fit for assisting in the development of the program. Currently a Master of Public Health Candidate at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Kiara’s favorite part of interning is the ability to apply her public health knowledge to the program to make real change in the community, truly improving the lives of mothers and children we serve.
The Two Generation program strengthens several services to homeless young mothers and children by providing case management, behavioral healthcare, early childhood development, educational and vocational services, and trauma informed counseling. Kiara specifically ensures the success of this program by creating program planning tools, developing the method, and finally implementing the plan. Through this work, Kiara has been a vital element in incorporating the Two Generation Approach in the Covenant House mission.
Ebonee has been thrilled to have Kiara on her team, and frequently sings her praises. “Kiara has a holistic way of critical thinking as it relates to the needs of our young families,” says Ebonee. Additionally, her creative, out-of-the-box thinking style brings innovation to the field, constantly inventing new ways to build engagement between the staff and the residents.
We are incredibly grateful to have such a passionate and dedicated spirit to support us here at the Covenant House. We know you’ll do remarkable things for others, Kiara!
This week is Volunteer Appreciation Week. We couldn’t think of a better group of volunteers to highlight than our clothing room volunteers. This incredible group of five women have been volunteering with us for more than a decade, and have clocked up THOUSANDS of hours for us, and have made an immeasurable difference. We can never thank them enough! Check out this blog post to learn more about these fabulous women.
Brenda Sider Clark, who is in charge of the Clothing Donation Center at Covenant House New Orleans, has been volunteering at Covenant House for 11 years. After her first year volunteering, she began coordinating a group of women from her church, Ephesus SDA Church, to volunteer alongside her two days a week. Elder Lois S. Magee, Brenda’s sister and an elder at the church, along with Delores, Irene, and Emelda, longtime friends of Brenda’s, have stayed incredibly busy for the last ten years, not only volunteering here, but also volunteering at a number of organizations around town. Recently, Brenda took some time away from her full schedule to talk to us a little bit more about what brought her to Covenant House and what has kept her here for all these years.
What brought you to Covenant House?
“I retired in 2001 and had been volunteering at other agencies. One day I just came in here and I asked what kind of volunteer duties they had. First they brought me around to the children’s section, I said “No, I don’t think I want to do that!” and then they told me that they had the clothing room, but it’s a monster – nobody stays. They said they have tried to hire people but it just gets overwhelming so they asked if I wanted to give that a try and I said “Ok I’ll give that a try.” Well I ended up liking it and I just kept doing it and – oh yes – at times it was overwhelming, but I keep going. I was the community service director for my church, so I brought a group of women, and they started volunteering with me. We’ve been here ever since, every Monday and Thursday. We have a good team, we work well together, don’t have any problems, we just do what we do.”
As the Director of Community Service at her church, Brenda and her ministry of women have been volunteering around New Orleans for about a decade now.
“One time we did a fundraiser for beds for the children here and we brought Monica Chanel over to speak at our church and I think we ended up donating $1,000 for beds for the children. Right now I am working with Sheri, the Human Trafficking case manager at Covenant House, to host awareness events at churches in the area. My church was the first church that hosted the awareness program and we have four upcoming events scheduled at other churches. At that event, we donated $250 to help fight human trafficking.
We do all sorts of different things in the community. We feed the homeless every other Tuesday at the drop in center for homeless youth and we feed over at Lantern Light. We prepare all our meals at the church and then we bring them to the facilities. After Katrina we had about eight feeding spots and we would bring hot meals to all the people in different hotels because all the homeless were taken to the hotels. We also have clothing giveaways – we take whatever we don’t use here and donate it to other places. We’ve been able to help a lot of people. So, it gets overwhelming, it really does, but we all just work together until we get the work done.”
What has been your favorite part about working at Covenant House?
“Being able to assist them and taking the responsibility of handling things that are donated and just taking that burden off them has been very rewarding. Being able to see people come in and find what they want or need. You know guys will come in and get their white shirts and black pants, our ladies will do the same so they can go out there and interview.”
“You know people see us in the clothing room, we do what we have to do here, we clear out everything, we bring more in, we do the best we can keeping things up, but we also do so many other things. Sometimes we are rushing out of here because we going to go feed or we have to go shop for the food to serve. It’s been so rewarding, I love it. I love it. And I want to give credit to everyone around me.”
Brenda looks to Irene next to her, “She is very faithful, very dependable. I feel guilty sometimes I put too much on her and then she fusses at me. She will never say no.”
How long have you all known each other?
“Oh Irene! Long time. She used to drive my kids to school. Irene how long has it been? Forty something years?” Irene smiles a wide smile and nods, continuing to fold the clothes, putting them away for the next group of youth to pick through. It seems as if these two, along with the rest of the hardworking crew of volunteers, will not be slowing down anytime soon.
Spreading Love at the Cov
Junior League of New Orleans Spotlight
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! At Covenant House, we are lucky to have incredible community partners. When groups come in to host events at the Cov, it shows our residents that they have friends in this city who are looking out for them. Today, we wanted to highlight one group in particular that goes above and beyond to show our residents love — the Junior League of New Orleans.
The Junior League of New Orleans has been giving back to the community for almost 100 years, investing millions of dollars and millions of volunteer hours. Covenant House opened in New Orleans 30 years ago, and the Junior League has been helping out since before the paint was even dry — literally! 30 years ago, members of the Junior League came to help put the finishing touches on the building so that it could fully open its doors to homeless youth in New Orleans. Today, they continue to bring support, opportunity, and joy to our young people through their monthly birthday parties, the Diaper Bank, the Parenting Center, Dress for Success, and through the incredible commitment of individual JLNO members.
Once a month, women from the Junior League come to throw a birthday party for our residents. They come with cake, ice cream, gifts, balloons, activities, and bingo. It is, without a doubt, one of the most highly anticipated activities each month. When residents come to a JLNO birthday party, it is joy all around! The room is transformed into a space where each resident gets to forget about whatever difficulties the day may have held. Instead, they get to focus on having fun, eating cake, and being celebrated for being themselves! Each resident who has had a birthday in that month gets a special gift, and every resident in attendance gets to participate in the fun. The parties are always themed, and this most recent birthday party was Valentine’s Day themed.
There’s no doubt that our residents loved it!
We are also incredibly blessed to receive diapers through the Junior League’s diaper bank. The Junior League provides a huge service to Covenant House not only by distributing much-needed diapers to us, but also by raising awareness about diaper need in New Orleans. The diaper donations help us beyond measure, as we care for between 30-40 babies and toddlers at any given time.
“Getting the diapers is stress relieving, because as soon as you are about to run out, you can ask to get some diapers, and they’ll give you the size you need. And that’s a huge relief for the moms, because you don’t have to stress about it. And I am so thankful for it. Thank you guys!”
–Sara, mother of three
Individuals Going Above and Beyond
As an organization, the Junior League has made an incredible impact in the lives of our residents. It’s no surprise then that the individuals that make up the organization are just as spectacular! Last November, eight members of the Junior League joined together to form a team for our annual Sleep Out event. These eight women slept out on the street with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a cardboard box to support our young people. Together, they surpassed their fundraising goal and raised $9,140 for our kids! In addition to participating in our Sleep Out event, individuals from the Junior League often reach out to support us — from donating office supplies to becoming regular volunteers.
From all of us here at Covenant House — THANK YOU!!
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.