Thanksgiving: How Covenant House California is helping youth experiencing homelessness rebuild their lives

Banner Covenant House

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated annually as a national holiday in the North American continent on the fourth Thursday of November. The day is celebrated in the harvest season and is a time to reflect upon other blessings of the year that have gone by.

We had a discussion with Vera Hannush, Bay Area Development Officer, Covenant House California.

Covenant House California is dedicated to serving all God’s children, with absolute respect and unconditional love, helping youth experiencing homelessness, and protecting and safeguarding all youth in need.

What motivated you to work at Covenant House California?

AVera – I come from the foundational world; I was a senior Grants Officer for a decade. While I was doing that, I volunteered at one of our shelter sites for 15 years. So I’ve been around the work a long time. I used to sit in the entrance room, helping the youth get towels, letting them know when it was their shower time, and just being there to spend time with them and let them know that someone cared and would show up for them.

And it’s been an absolute honour to fundraise for the youth. I love working on site. It’s so beautiful, and I’m so grateful for the experience.

How does Covenant House California work and how is it helping the youth?

AVera – We provide the full spectrum of services to the youth. We serve youth 13 to 24. We serve youth experiencing homelessness. When they walk through our doors, they receive shelter, food, medical services, mental health services, access to higher education, and transitional housing.

They don’t need to juggle; all their needs are met. They can focus on what they want to do, what their next steps are going to be, what career they might want to pursue, what their passions are. We’re removing all of those obstacles for them to rebuild their lives and exit homelessness.

What are some challenges that you have faced especially in the light of the pandemic?

AVera – During the pandemic, all of our costs skyrocketed. That’s been the biggest challenge. But we’re happy that our COVID-19 positivity rate has been very low, even lower than the California percentage. And we’re so happy that we’re able to keep our youth safe. It was hard at the beginning of the pandemic; most of our youth lost their hard-won jobs in the service industry out of no fault of their own, and just having that setback was so hard.

We did all we could to support our youth and meet the challenge of these increased costs due to COVID. The youth are getting their jobs back now, which is a beautiful thing to see. Many youth-facing organizations had to close certain programs, or at least temporarily closed during the pandemic, but we didn’t close a single program, including our drop-in centre, which we feel proud of.

What is one thing that you’re most thankful for in 2021?

AVera – I’m most thankful for the youth and their moments of joy because their moments of joy help them and help me. It’s an honour. So these moments are what we’re thankful for.

How are you celebrating Thanksgiving at Covenant House California?

AVera – Usually, it’s a big affair, and we have a special Thanksgiving where we open our doors to volunteers, board members, and community members. But of course, with COVID, it’s scaled back to some extent, but we have amazing volunteers who are bringing all the food so the youth will have a truly delicious Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a total community affair where people share their goodwill with the youth who need it the most and help them thrive in their lives.

What is that one particular achievement that you are immensely proud of?

AVera – As a development officer, maintaining connections and helping people learn about the mission and Covenant House California virtually has been the greatest achievement. It’s giving donors that feeling when you walk through our doors and see our work, it speaks for itself.

The fact that this organization can carry out the work and still serve so many youth with the challenges of COVID, and with the increase in youth experiencing homelessness and losing jobs due to COVID is also an achievement.

It’s also an achievement that we’re still moving forward on our expansion projects. In fact, we just opened our new site in Santa Clara on June 1, which serves 30 youth, including parenting youth, which is rare in shelter systems. That may have to win as the particular achievement that we’re most immensely proud of.

Any messages for the people reading this right now?

AVera – I would say there is no gift too small to make a deep impact. Simple things like $25 can feed a youth for a week. We have all these stats about how far your donation can go, which is truly unbelievable. And we’re just so grateful for all your participation and volunteering. It makes a difference in a youth’s life to know that somebody wants to spend an hour helping them, whether it’s doing a workshop or virtual mentorship or coming to our site.

We are truly grateful for all the donations, especially during the holiday season. That’s how we’re able to expand and serve more youth. The goal is to serve the most youth. Whether you’re helping that by volunteering or connecting with them or helping them financially, we’re so grateful.

Celebrate Thanksgiving with Covenant House California and Goodera

Goodera empowers nonprofits such as Covenant House California through brand advocacy, fundraising, and long-term volunteers.

We hope that this interview helped you to really understand how Covenant House California is helping homeless youth deal with the problems they face in the outside world by providing them with necessary resources.

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