Promise Place School to Provide Permanent Housing, Education for LGBT Homeless Youth in MA

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By: Lauren Walleser/TRT Assistant Editor—

CAPE COD, Mass.—Plans are well underway for The Foundation for International Justice, Inc. to open Promise Place School, a residential school aiming to provide a permanent, safe and loving home environment in Cape Cod for homeless LGBT youth in Massachusetts ages 12-24.

Erica Kay-Webster, founding board chair of the Foundation for International Justice, Inc. and CEO of Promise Place School, was rejected by her family at the age of 15 and became homeless. She eventually made her way to New York, where she continued to struggle, taking shelter on the Staten Island Ferry, surviving two suicide attempts, and almost starving to death, all while coming to terms with her identity as a transgender woman.

“That was over 46 years ago, and I have never forgotten the fear, hunger, desperation, loneliness and the depression from feeling unloved and rejected,” said Kay-Webster. “Finally, I was able to find a job and my boss and his wife rescued me, bringing me into their home with acceptance, safety and love. My own experience has motivated me to work at creating a better world than I had personally found at such a young age.”

In 2010, Kay-Webster began working to create the Foundation for International Justice, which was incorporated in 2012. She found that in the U.S. today, there are 600,000 young people who have been rejected by their families and are living on the streets.

“My desire has always been to create a program that would fully meet the needs of our homeless youth with a comprehensive program, and to create a permanent living and learning environment in a highly supportive family atmosphere—a place that our youth can call home,” she said.

 “My desire has always been to create a program that would fully meet the needs of our homeless youth with a comprehensive program, and to create a permanent living and learning environment in a highly supportive family atmosphere—a place that our youth can call home.”—Erica Kay-Webster, founding board chair of the Foundation for International Justice, Inc. and CEO of Promise Place School 

Elizabeth McCliment, board member and assistant treasurer, shared why she believes Promise Place School is needed in Massachusetts.

“I’m the parent of a transgender son, and through him I was introduced to the young transgender community and first heard of the broken family relationships, abandonment, abuse and hopelessness faced by such a large proportion of LGBT youth. Before that time, I had no idea that homelessness in this vulnerable group had reached epidemic proportions,” McCliment said. “I’m proud to be part of the mission of the Promise Place School, which will serve to provide more than just a safe place to sleep, more than just an education and training, but will also fill the critical role of providing access to an entire community, along with the consistency and the support system that are lost when LGBT youth are rejected by family and loved ones.”

As Kay-Webster explained, there are currently few beds available specifically for LGBT youth throughout the Commonwealth. The current options include shelters, which were originally created for emergency situations and do not provide continual stability, and the foster care system, through which many LGBT youth have had negative experiences as they come out.

“These programs are failing our youth, and this is the reason why Promise Place School is needed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and throughout our nation,” Kay-Webster said. 

The current options include shelters, which were originally created for emergency situations and do not provide continual stability, and the foster care system, through which many LGBT youth have had negative experiences as they come out.

The first location on Cape Cod will be able to accommodate 50 youth at full capacity. The plan is then to expand their locations throughout Massachusetts.

“We believe our program will save the Commonwealth money in the long run, and the Commonwealth needs to incorporate funding in the annual budget for long term, permanent solutions to ending homelessness,” she said.

Kathy A. Felt, board president and chief operations officer of Promise Place School, shared how her experience developing and running group homes for youth will contribute to the creation and impact of Promise Place School on the lives of LGBT youth.

“I have seen first-hand the detrimental effect that lack of permanency and safety in living situations, rejection by family, peers and loved ones can have on any youth today. The LGBT community of youth face a particular set of challenges in life for which they are often unprepared, and those kids are slipping through the cracks, living life on the street and in the shadows,” said Felt. “In order to thrive and become productive, contributing members of society, all kids need to have a safe place to live, to obtain an education, to explore possibilities for their future and to dream and be free to be who they are. Promise Place School will make that difference in the lives of these kids. The supportive community living will provide a sense of belonging and acceptance for them. When kids feel safe and are encouraged by caring adults, they have a better chance of successfully transitioning to adulthood. Promise Place School will offer that chance.”

According to Kay-Webster, Promise Place School will celebrate diversity, offering encouragement, respect, and individual attention in a preparatory school setting. Services will include: a permanent, safe, loving home environment to ensure stability; a healthy and nutritious diet; clothing (gender appropriate and appropriate for all four seasons); HIV/STD testing, medical services, and safe sex education; mental health services and substance abuse education; education for grades 6-12 including a GED program and guidance counseling; life skills education and vocational skills training; computer lab and college preparatory classes; advanced education placement and career placement assistance upon graduation; recreational and physical fitness programs year round; and full continuing education scholarships for all graduates.

The school will be staffed by professionals qualified and trained in all areas, including house parents, teachers and teaching assistants, counselors, administrative staff, housekeeping staff, security staff, maintenance staff, recreational staff and volunteers. Medical, dental, eye care, and mental health services will be contracted and provided by local service providers fully licensed in Massachusetts.

Kay-Webster said students must be homeless in order to attend the school. They will be identified through outreach and referral programs and will be able to stay at the school until they have finished their education and are able to be on their own. 

Services will include: a permanent, safe, loving home environment to ensure stability; a healthy and nutritious diet; clothing (gender appropriate and appropriate for all four seasons); HIV/STD testing, medical services, and safe sex education; mental health services and substance abuse education; education for grades 6-12 including a GED program and guidance counseling; life skills education and vocational skills training; computer lab and college preparatory classes; advanced education placement and career placement assistance upon graduation; recreational and physical fitness programs year round; and full continuing education scholarships for all graduates.

Many who are involved in Promise Place School reported feeling deeply personally connected with its mission.

“As a transgender woman who began my own transition a year and a half ago, I am appalled by the statistics I read, particularly about transgender youth, who have the highest suicide rate at 41 percent versus 1.6 percent for the overall youth population,” said Rebecca Adomaitis, board member, treasurer and chief financial officer. “Transgender teens are most vulnerable—often puberty can plunge them into a nightmare from which they never wake up.”

Adomaitis began working pro bono to help establish Promise Place School after meeting Kay-Webster at a PFLAG meeting.

“Until we change the culture and the popular belief system of many people in the United States, and until we humanize the LGBTQI population, prejudice, bullying, discrimination and more horrendous crimes will continue,” Adomaitis said. “I want to change the world, and this is the best way I have found to do so. I truly believe in this project, which will help people like me have successful lives without facing the same difficulties I have faced.”

The school is scheduled to open in September 2015. Kay-Webster said that people can help by hosting a fundraiser, donating funds and supplies, and volunteering their services. All donations are tax deductible through their fiscal agent THRIVE as they await their 501(c)(3) approval.

For additional information, contact Erica Kay-Webster at (508) 367-1636 or via email at ericakaywebster@gmail.com. For more on the Foundation for International Justice, Inc., visit www.ffij.org.

Filed Under: Eastern NE News

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