Part 3 of Spectrum News 1's series "Breaking the Cycle: Generational Poverty"
CLEVELAND, Ohio—Like hundreds of other teens who age out of foster care, Shajuana Gaston felt her future was uncertain.
“Like I didn’t know how to drive, I didn’t know anything about credit, or graduate school and those were all goals that I have,” said Gaston.
Many young people who age out of foster care end up homeless within two years and many others end up incarcerated.
This is an issue that Amber Donovan is passionate about, so in 2014 she decided to do something about it.
“People who live a life that’s just from day to day kind of in poverty that are impacted by poverty... don’t really have access necessarily to kind of the networks that people in maybe the middle class have,” said Donovan, Community of Hope.
Donovan’s efforts started in the faith community in 2014, following the model of an organization called “Open Table,” but quickly grew.
In 2018, Community of Hope was born as a non-profit.
“Our mission is really to create long lasting relationships for young people to nurture hope... and to restore dignity,” said Donovan.
Community of Hope has 459 volunteers who make up tables for 53 young people.
Those tables provide insight and help that many people typically receive from family.
Gaston was able to pick a group of volunteers who spend at least an hour a week with her for a year.
“They put me on the right path but they do stuff with me and I can kind of relax and be myself… it’s not something that’s kind of like the foster care experience or like a social worker or anything like that, which is really like a relief”
Gaston says she feels these people are like family.
“They’re doing it out of the kindness of their heart, not because someone is paying them to.” said Gaston.
Donovan says unlike foster care programs, young people don’t age out of Community of Hope.
“Once they’ve been a part… even since 2014…any person who has been a part of our community or had a volunteer team can still come to us and we will support them, love them care for them.”
Donovan says it’s all about family and building a network to help them succeed.
“So, we want to give them access and opportunity that they would not have had, had they not had these people in their life,” said Donovan.
“It’s so funny because I am a social work major and I’m minoring in non-profit administration. I want to do a whole bunch of things career wise but I want to end with my own international group home,” said Gaston.
Donovan says the young people give her just as much as she gives them.
“It’s really helping people see... I am capable of all these things so for me, I’m inspired by young people... I always believe they are capable,” said Donovan.
“When I figure out how to repay these people, I will. But um, it’s one of those things that... I’m just extremely grateful. That’s the only way I know how to explain it. I’m just extremely grateful,” said Gaston.