Last month, members of the Lazydays Employee Foundation were moved by the courage and determination of six youths during the Homeless Youth Forum. Presented by the Homeless Coalition of Florida’s Hillsborough County, this first-of-its-kind forum raised awareness for teen homelessness and youth in need.
According to a press release, the panel of homeless and previously homeless youth consisted of Amanda George, Laura Harris, Ronnieshia Hicks, Christopher Mack, Traci Waltz and Alexandria Williams, who have all been helped by the Lazydays Homeless Youth Program. Thanks to the partnership of Eckerd and the Lazydays Employee Foundation, this program is able to provide services that help youth with accessing housing, educational opportunities, medical testing and treatment, financial aid, employment and other basic needs.
One of the highlights of the forum was when Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 1351 that provides homeless youth, who are at least 16 years of age, the ability to get their birth certificates, necessary for identification, health care, school and work. This bill was drafted by students at Armwood High School, and sponsored by Senator Jack Latvala along with Representatives Rich Glorioso and Jim Frishe.
The press release stated that as of last year, there were 6,503 homeless youth in Florida and about 200 unaccompanied homeless youth in Hillsborough County who are under the age of 18. Although there are programs, such as the Lazydays Homeless Youth Program, that provide unaccompanied homeless youth with the resources and assistance they need to escape homelessness, more housing and other resources are needed. By sharing their struggles and experiences, the six panelists expressed the importance of giving homeless youth more opportunities to become independent, contributing members of society.
The forum concluded with Wheels of Success awarding a car to Sean McCoggle Jr., another youth assisted by the Lazydays Homeless Youth Program. The Lazydays Employee Foundation and the Triad Foundation provided the financial support for the car repairs and first-time auto tag fees to help Sean get on the road to success.
For more information, visit http://www.LazydaysEmployeeFoundation.org.
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.
The men and women of Lazydays RV are once again proud to support Zach Bonner, 12-year-old philanthropist as he began his “March Across America” a 2,478-mile walk to raise awareness for the nearly 1.3 million homeless children in America, according to a news release.
The walk began Tuesday (March 23) at Lazydays dealership in Seffner, Fla., and will culminate in Los Angeles.
Zach and Lazydays share a passion for helping at-risk children. In 2007 Zach, the founder of the Little Red Wagon non-profit organization, met with the Lazydays Employee Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation funded by weekly payroll deductions volunteered by the employees of Lazydays. Realizing their missions were the same, Lazydays and the Lazydays Employee Foundation vowed to help Zach in his quest to help homeless children.
Since his first walk in 2007, Lazydays and its employees have supported Zach by providing him with a Class A motorhome to house Zach and his family on each of his walks.
“I owe it all to Lazydays,” claimed Zach upon being asked how he felt. “Without them believing in me and helping me I never could have done it, Lazydays is like family to me.”