A large network of local community-based agencies and the Lazydays Employee Foundation have come together to create the Lazydays Center for Youth Development.
The center is a first-of-its-kind facility in Hillsborough County, Fla., dedicated to providing unaccompanied homeless youth (generally 16 –22 years of age) with the resources and assistance they need to break the cycle of homelessness, according to a news release. The youth center’s mission is to provide a safe, caring environment to empower homeless youth to reach their full potential through education.
Jeff Rainey, president and CEO of Hillsborough Kids Inc., is one of the driving forces behind the center. He recognized the need in Hillsborough County to serve unaccompanied youth who are not part of the foster care system after he was approached by Harold Oehler, general counsel for Lazydays and the Lazydays Employee Foundation.
“Hillsborough County has a gap between homeless youth, particularly unaccompanied youth, and the services available to help them,” said Rainey. “This gap exists because there is no centralized point of access to the services necessary to help these youth get off the street, finish their education and become productive members of society. Without such access, youth alone on the streets often feel that their only options for survival are prostitution, drug trafficking and other crimes.”
The Lazydays Employee Foundation has made a five-year financial commitment of $350,000 to provide the seed money to open the center. These funds will be used in part to employ an Outreach Coordinator who will develop the center, navigate youth through the services in the community and link them with family members whenever possible. The services will include assisting the youth in accessing housing, educational opportunities, medical testing and treatment, employment and other basic needs.
“Hillsborough County has one of the largest homeless child populations in the state,” explained Oehler. “Navigating available services can be a daunting challenge for a young person who already feels abandoned, alone and afraid. Providing access to a single gateway of navigation and support could be a lifeline for these vulnerable youth.
“By implementing the outreach center model which has proven to be successful in other communities, we are potentially saving the community funding lost to the criminal justice system. Each life lost to incarceration is tragic and represents an enormous loss in public resources and human potential. We can do better as a community.”
Hillsborough Kids will serve as the project’s fiduciary and employ the staff. They will also provide the infrastructure for the center and contribute the operating expenses related to this project. However, public and private grants will be sought to pay the additional expenses needed to serve the youth.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor best summed up the reasons for establishing the center. “Homeless kids just need some guidance and support to get off the streets. Once their basic needs are taken care of, they can go from there. It’s amazing what kids can accomplish if given just a little bit of assistance. The Tampa Police Department supports the Lazydays Center for Youth Development one hundred percent.”
The Lazydays Center for Youth Development will be located at 9391 N. Florida Avenue and projects to have a grand opening in November.
About Lazydays Employee Foundation: In 2005, the employees of Lazydays created the Lazydays Employee Foundation, a 501C3 non-profit organization, in order to measurably change the lives of at-risk children through education. The foundation is funded through voluntary weekly payroll deductions by more than 65 percent of Lazydays’ employees. To learn more, visit www.LazydaysEmployeeFoundation.org.
About Hillsborough Kids Inc.: Hillsborough Kids Inc. is a non-profit agency created out of a three-year community planning process specifically to perform the duties of the Lead Agency for Community-Based Care in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough Kid’s mission is to ensure the safety and permanency of abused and neglected children in Hillsborough County by providing comprehensive services that promote strong families. To learn more, visit www.hillsboroughkids.org.