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Stand Up for Kids – Helping vulnerable youth in San Diego

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Stand Up for Kids

The streets are empty, the city is silent and it’s a cold night. You’re all alone. You have no money in your pockets, no food on your table and no roof over your head. You think to yourself how, did I get here, how could I get myself out of this situation, who really cares about me? How do I get myself out of this?

Day in and day out, hundreds, even thousands, of homeless teens flood the streets of San Diego – abandoned, desolate, and forgotten. Forced out by a family life dictated by horrors, drug use, legal problems, and coping with a society that just doesn’t seem to care. The pervasiveness of the homeless youth has become a common sight in our city. They are not your disgruntled vets, or vagabonds. They are children, confused and uncertain teens, roaming the streets as ghosts, with no faith in the world, or hope for salvation without aide.

So where do they go? To whom can they turn? Who will be the savior of the “Lost Kids?” The answer to that question comes in the form of a guiding organization known as “Stand Up For Kids.”

In 1990, a retired U.S. Navy Officer by the name of Richard L. Koca recognized these “lost” teens’ needs and established “Stand up For Kids” in an attempt to provide the much needed support and guidance to these the forgotten children. Koca’s compassion and previous humanitarian work in the Navy helped him to recognize these discarded children and to dedicate his life to reversing this growing epidemic.

For over twenty years, Koca’s dedication and compassion has fueled the growth and success of this organization. Their goal has been, and continues to be, to find teens that have been pushed into the darkest corners of society and bring them back into the light. In providing forgotten homeless children with shelter, food, clothing, and stepping stones for growth, which they were previously deprived of, Stand Up for Kids has taken the homeless teen plague head on.

Stand Up for KidsWith a drop in center located in the East Village of downtown San Diego on Park and C Streets, the organization has become a safe haven for the forgotten youth. With leaders like Joe Guerrero (Volunteer- Leadership Team), Terilyn Burg (Executive Director), and Chris Vaughn (volunteer), the drop-in center has become a booming success. From the outside, the center looks almost like a warehouse, but what lies inside is something that has sustained so many forgotten youth that roam the streets.

The facility provides all the necessities of survival. They have showering facilities, living areas to sleep in or just lounge, regular meals, a laundry room, and many others of the bare essentials that provide the comforts of long forgotten homes. Keeping up with modern times, the facility also provides a computer room for the teens to download music, keep in contact with others, and study. Realistic about the enormity of their struggle, the center also provides rental tents for the teens so they have some sort of shelter when they are sleeping out in public parks, and on the streets. Joe Guerrero states that the facility’s sole goal is to provide a place for the kids “to feel safe”.

Despite all of its similarities to a shelter, it is very different in its approach to its inhabitants. As Joe would put it, they provide a place for the kids “to just hang out and get out off the streets.” By providing conditioner, shampoo, shaving cream, underwear, and apparel, they cater to the teen population and desire to aide these teens in their assimilation back into society.

Terilyn, who has been with the organization from the start, says despite their extenuating circumstances, “…they are still kids, and they want to look good, and feel good as teens.” Overall, it seems that the ultimate goal of the facility is to provide the teens with a teen oriented, comfortable environment, in which they can feel that they are being cared for.

Alita Thorp, one of the many teens using the facility for six months, emphasizes the positive effect of the program.

“It provides a place to shower, eat, get clothes and the basic things that you need if you’re living on the streets, that you can’t really get anywhere else. Also this place the people make you feel comfortable, and it’s just a better place to be cause you can connect with the youth, and the staff,” she said.

The program recognized that youth are often disenfranchised and feel that they have no voice. They feel that they are getting the broken end of the stick. Within their walls, these teens feel welcomed and like they’re not being judged. Stand Up For Kids’ non-profit element has allowed them to dedicate everything they have to the teens. All the goods and money they receive go towards the cause, and not one-penny or donation is given to the staff. They survive on their love and passion for the teens.

Chris Vaughn, a volunteer for two years, began to explain that what drew her to the program, saying that this was as real as it gets, and that she felt privileged in being led into a culture that about 90 percent of the world doesn’t know exists. She re-iterated that it takes a certain kind of volunteer and those “that do get sucked in, the kids make your day, and you feel totally connected”. All of the volunteers there that day seemed to have a unifying understanding in what they are doing. Vaughn calls them the “Mash Unit.”

Considering the organization’s outlook, one has to think: Have we become so disconnected with our surrounding that we don’t even care to take a look at what is going on underneath our noses? Or, are we more comfortable living in our own fantasy world where these teens do not exist and can never be our children?

As San Diegans and Americans, it is imperative that we turn our attention to this growing epidemic and focus our attentions on these children, which we have long discarded. Youth day in and day out San Diego and nationally city are turning to the streets to escape their abusive lives, and the nation prefers to turn a blind eye, thinking that ignorance is bliss.

A city is a reflection of its inhabitants, and how can we view San Diego as an iconic city if we cannot even realize, as Terilyn Burg puts it, “the growing problem of homeless youth,” within the confines of our city. As Vaughn puts it, “most people don’t even know the problem until they come [to the Stand up for Kids facility]… and then their like, oh my god, this is really real!”

The youth on the streets are calling for you help. Anything and everything that we can spare, we must. Donate money, clothing, toiletries, and all sorts of items you feel that could be of use to the children of the streets.

Go to here to see how you can help in their efforts. Find the location and maybe just buy dinner one night for all the teens, and help in anyway that you can.

Look beyond yourselves and spread the word, cause if one person takes a stand for the Children, other will follow the lead.

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