ORANGE PARK – A fitness facility, a swimming pool, an incredible view of the St. Johns River and even a bowling alley. These are the amenities offered to residents of Moosehaven. Usually, these …
ORANGE PARK – A fitness facility, a swimming pool, an incredible view of the St. Johns River and even a bowling alley. These are the amenities offered to residents of Moosehaven. Usually, these residents are what could be classified as senior citizens. As of the first week of November, however, there’s a new type of resident.
The senior citizen residents of Moosehaven are typically above the age of 65, but its newest residents are 18 years old. The senior citizen residents likely moved from a house into their new home. The new residents didn’t have a home before finding residency at Moosehaven.
These new residents are what the new organization, the Clay Youth Connection, calls unaccompanied or temporarily displaced teens. What this means is that an unforeseen circumstance left these 18-year-olds without a place to sleep, a place to eat breakfast, a place to call home.
The Clay Youth Connection is an initiative that is striving to find students in the Clay County school system that are temporarily displaced and give them a place to live, so that a lack of sleep on a proper bed, or a void of breakfast, will no longer be a hurdle they face in their high school education.
This initiative began when Orange Park Council member Connie Thomas decided to take a deeper look at the homeless in her town.
“We had a lot of people concerned about a lady always on the side of a road in town and it turned out that she was homeless,” said Thomas at the Clay Youth Connection meeting that took place Nov. 17. “That’s when I decided to learn more about the homeless in Orange Park.”
Upon finding out more, Thomas discovered that homelessness wasn’t just affecting adults – it’s an issue in the youth community as well. Some children are living car to car, with no set place to sleep at night, according to Thomas.
As time went on, the issue kept bubbling closer and closer to the surface and that’s when Thomas decided to take action. That action was the birth of what is now known as the Clay Youth connection, and it came with the help of Moosehaven Executive Director John Capes.
“We got involved after attending a committee meeting about four months ago and listening to what [Thomas] was trying to do,” said Capes. “We listened to what they wanted to do and where they were at and told them what we could do.”
While Capes admits to being only a small portion of the help the Clay Youth Connection is receiving – Mercy Support Services, the Clay County School District and Orange Park Medical Center, as well as many others, are offering their services too. Capes said Moosehaven plays a massive role in helping the temporarily displaced in town.
Moosehaven is providing rooms, food, relationships with the elderly and even jobs for the two teenagers that are a part of the initiative. Moosehaven is the breakfast before school, the bed to sleep on at night, the home over their heads that these two young adults haven’t had for the past few years, if not longer. For Capes, Thomas and the rest of the committee, this is only the beginning.
“We are moving forward with two candidates currently and we have been given a year,” said Capes. “After a year, assuming everything goes well, which I’m sure it will, I imagine the [Moosehaven board] will give me full control over the program to move forward into the bigger picture.”
“We can only work with 18-year-olds currently, but we are hoping to extend this program to younger people, where we can hit the problem early on,” Capes said.
The initiative ends when after high school graduation, but the committee is looking to extend its help beyond that in the form of job placement, counseling and more.
While still technically unknown, the future is looking bright for the unaccompanied homeless youth in Orange Park, and as the pilot moves forward into becoming a full-fledged program, it will only get brighter.
“These are intelligent kids with a prosperous future – they’ve just run into some unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances,” said Thomas, “but we are happy and excited to help them move past that and into something better.”