Last fall, Nick, a 2014 UNR graduate, helped coordinate the Streetsmart 4 Youth Restaurants program which raised $14,000 to help homeless youths in the Reno area. The money was distributed to the Children’s Cabinet, the Eddy House, Planned Parenthood, the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality, and the Sierra Association of Foster Families. With the new year upon us, Our Town Reno wanted to find out more about what Nick was doing and planning to help homeless youths in Reno. This includes coordinating a new mentorship program. Listen to Nick's interview with Our Town Reno's Nico Colombant or read excerpts here to find out more.
What do you do exactly at the Foundation?
We connect people who care with causes that matter so we work with a lot of donors and connect them with different philanthropic causes they’re passionate about. The other area of our work is with community initiatives, which is more specifically what I do. Since early 2014, we’ve been doing our Youth Network Initiative and that’s a community project addressing needs of youth who are homeless or runaways or aging out of the foster care system.
What is your personal motivation to do this type of work?
I’ve always been interested in community development work but I didn’t really know about the issues with youth homelessness in Reno. Once I started looking more into it, and when I saw there were over 3,000 students who are homeless in the Washoe County School District that was something I wanted to get involved with.
Can you tell us more about the homeless youth problem in our area?
Youths who are homeless they tend to stay in groups and I think a lot of them, the main reason why they are invisible is they don’t want to be seen. It could be they are minors and that if they are caught that could mean being put back into the system, if they were in foster care, and they’re trying to avoid that. There are (also) issues of incarceration, so really they just want to blend in as much as possible.
Does your work sometimes break your heart?
Absolutely, it is heartbreaking... The one thing it really relates to is a person’s privilege. For many of these youths. it’s not that they’re lazy, that they’re not hard working but perhaps they didn’t come from a good family, or they are victims of abuse. If they had been given the same opportunity as myself or other people, they wouldn’t be in this situation. I think sometimes what it comes down to is the luck of the draw.
A New Mentorship Program
I’m talking to a lot of youths and looking at where there are gaps in the system and mentoring is something that’s highly valued. Many of the youths would like to have a mentor. Upon researching the reality of mentoring agencies, many of them have a shortage of mentors. So we recently created a new website called NevadaMentors.Org. That’s designed for prospective mentors to look and see what opportunities are available, what suits their interest because it can be somewhat difficult to find the opportunities that are available if they want to help a vulnerable young person.
Why is it so important to help homeless youths?
I think it’s probably one of the biggest issues in our community. For many of these youths right now they are still at a point when they can turn their lives around if given the proper network of people, the right opportunities and resources but if we ignore it and they continue along that same path they can end up becoming chronically homeless and that puts a lot of future social and economic burdens on our community later on.