At Casa Youth Shelter, our Community Outreach efforts include a monthly visit to properties on the notorious “Motel Row” in Anaheim, CA. Our staff and Youth Leadership Program (YLP) teenage volunteers hand out toys, school supplies, groceries and most importantly, their time to the striving families who can not afford to live anywhere else. This place is the only option for many families that are struggling financially and can't scrape together a deposit for an apartment. By living week-to-week in these cramped quarters, they stay one step ahead of homelessness.
This past Saturday, our team of volunteers met at one of the few motel establishments along State College Boulevard where the Manager is cooperative and allows us to be there. A young girl about seven years old, draws rows of pink daisies along the cracks in the asphalt, the only kind of flowers that grow there. Excited laughter and cheering erupts as an announcement of a water balloon toss is made to the group of 15 kids, who eagerly emerged from the dilapidated 400-square foot single rooms that they share with their families.
“Thomas* has gotten so big, I remember when he was barely walking,” says a volunteer who has been coming to the motel for four years. Thomas has spent almost his entire life here as have many of the young children who find shelter in a place where people constantly move in and out, including prostitutes, drug abusers and registered sex offenders.
“I just moved here. I was in a shelter like Casa when I was younger,” reveals a young woman. Her eyes look glossy as she goes on, “my brother just runs away from my Dad. He is a really difficult 16-year-old. I usually know where to find him but it's getting harder. ” Our Community Outreach Director, Pam shares information about Casa with her. She walks away with a look of relief, tightly gripping a Casa Youth Shelter flyer.
It is true amazement to observe the interactions in this outreach program; between the high school volunteers of YLP, the children who look forward to the playtime, the worried sister of an at-risk teenager, and the dedicated staff who tirelessly work to make a difference.