A mural in the living room of the Valley Youth House in Warminster says it all. Inspired by a group of troubled teenagers who had found a temporary home there, it depicts a forest with saplings and taller trees, symbolizing growth.
It dominates the colorful and airy space and its message is clear.
Rob Proffe, outreach coordinator, who is also an artist, helped the teens, who developed the concept, perfect the final painting. It’s a bright and comforting scene as well as a powerful reminder for both those who seek refuge and those who labor to help them repair their young lives.
The center, situated on the campus of Christ’s Home, is a clean and pleasant place with private bedrooms, and is usually filled to capacity,” said Joelle Pitts, director of programs for both Bucks and Montgomery counties.
“The Valley Youth House in Bucks is an emergency shelter with 13 beds. We accept runaways, homeless, at-risk kids, those with child-parent conflicts. They really have no other place to go in the county.”
The center offers shelter, food and counseling for Bucks teens in a voluntary, 21-day plan, according to Pitts. “We have a 24-hour hotline, the only one in the county, and overnight staff.”
“The kids may be brought in by police who find them sleeping on a park bench. Sometimes they’re referred by the schools or social agencies.
We’ve even had adults from homeless communities report kids to us. Some are aged out of foster care. We also partner with Bucks County Children and Youth, for example.”
The center has a changing population, and Pitts said it serves an average of 30 residents a month. There were 38 in September.
Pitts said many teens are on the street, sleeping on a friend’s couch or living in the woods because they are trying to escape physical, sexual or emotional abuse and its accompanying trauma. The center not only is a home away from home for them, but also a temporary sanctuary to help and heal the troubled young people, to transform their lives after suffering “significant abuse and neglect.”
They are carefully screened at intake and offered therapy by licensed clinical social workers. Parents also often attend classes at the center with an eye to better relationships and reconciliation.
Pitts said, “No one leaves here without a plan.” After screening, the children are assigned a case worker who will oversee their education, make sure they take any medicines prescribed for them and keep appointments with doctors and dentists. The staff basically does what caring parents do for their children.
In addition to offering a safe place to live, the center workers, all of whom have at least bachelor’s degrees, help the teens build relationships and community connections. The kids also get individual therapy and attend life skills classes. They eat together – and often help plan meals and cook together. They also share household chores.
“There’s always a special effort to make holidays pleasant for them,” Pitts said.
“Doylestown United Methodist Church is our largest supporter,” said Pitts. “A group there called the Vine prepares meals for them, especially at Thanksgiving.” Other partners also help provide for the young people. “We want it to feel like a home,” Pitts said.
The center’s Synergy Project is an outreach program. Coordinators drive around in a van offering free food and the use of a computer to the homeless kids to help them connect with others and get them to come to the shelter.
The center also oversees a program funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for people aged 18 to 24 who meet HUD’s definition of homelessness. In a supervised independent living program, qualified young adults share a house in Bensalem.
That’s a transitional step to a rapid rehousing program in rental units throughout the county. Those people continue to receive financial help and life skills instruction to ease them into total independence.
Participants must provide 75 percent of the rent themselves.
Joseph Lynch, vice president of development and marketing for Valley Youth House in five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania, said, “Valley Youth House began in 1973 as a single shelter in Bethlehem ensuring that vulnerable, abused and homeless young people in the community had access to shelter and counseling. Even then we represented more than just a roof and beds. We are an organization committed to building a solid foundation for everyone who comes through our doors.”
Valley Youth House has grown, too. Lynch said, “Every year Valley Youth House programs impact more than 31,000 lives. There are 56 programs in 14 counties in eastern Pennsylvania. Last year cash funding totaled more than $7,548,000. Of that, government funding totaled about $5,600,000, but he fears cuts will affect programs if Valley Youth House can’t raise about $80,000.
Non-monetary donations amounted to more than $941,000, he said.