About 10 years ago, a group of friends and I started volunteering to prepare meals for the kids at YouthCare, a local nonprofit that serves homeless youth. We would shop for the items, cook, then head over to the old site of the Orion Center and serve the food. Despite already having worked in nonprofits, it was a powerful experience. I was struck by two things:
1. There were vegans and vegetarians. It sounds crazy to be surprised that someone would still be a vegan or a vegetarian while experiencing homelessness, but I was. And it taught me to appreciate that your values don't change because of your situation.
2. An outsider would not be able to differentiate these kids from my friends or me. This was a big one. The kids kept asking us what company we were from. We weren't from a company, we were from Fremont.
Luckily for me, I have managed to stay connected to YouthCare in one way or another over these past 10 years. Today, I attended the 10 year anniversary for the Barista Training Program, an inspirational and effective partnership between FareStart and YouthCare that teaches homeless youth both life skills and the technical skills to be baristas.
Being in the Orion Center again, I was struck by the importance of personal style. As teenagers, how we present ourselves feels even more important than it does in adulthood. And, as homeless teenagers, a kid may only have a few pieces to wear everyday, in every interaction. More than ever, those pieces impact their confidence, their public identity and in some cases, their social circle. So, if you only have one hoodie, it better be the right one.
Each year as we head into colder weather, I'm inspired by the sock drives for YouthCare, the donations of clothes for the kids and financial support. When I interact with the teenagers in my world, I'm reminded of the impact style has on us as we transition into adulthood and the ways that I can help someone else find their voice through clothes.