Who needs to hear some good news today? Who feels bummed out about our world and needs to know that it hasn’t all gone to shit?
I’m pretty jazzed after going on a tour of the SAY Dream Center and Ceres Project in Santa Rosa and will now tell you all about it so that you know that there are people out there, working on a local level, to make America great…(again? Or maybe for the first time? Hard to say).
First, for some context, did you know that this summer, the Santa Rosa City Council voted unanimously to draft a Homeless State of Emergency? Vice Mayor Tom Schwedhelm suggested that the emergency will only truly end when Santa Rosa’s homeless numbers reach functional zero and all people have access to shelter and housing within a short time of becoming homeless.
Homeless youth make up 20% of the overall homeless population in Sonoma County, and with 678 youth homeless in Sonoma County, we have more youth homeless than in the City of Chicago or the entire county of San Diego. Within 48 hours on the streets these youth are approached for sex services in addition to fighting the natural elements and having no security over their bodies or belongings.
I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be a sixteen year old who looks at their bedroom and decides that it would be safer on the streets than to stay one more day. I can’t imagine being shuffled through foster homes and group homes with nowhere else to go as a child, only to be spit out of the system traumatized, scared, and unprepared for how to move forward as an adult. I can’t imagine my own mother selling me into sex slavery for drug money, only to be discarded several years later alone, on the streets.
These are all scenarios that lead youth from the streets to the SAY (Social Advocates for Youth) Dream Center. Did you know that, when asked what they need, homeless youth don’t say they want a home, they say they want a job so that they can take care of themselves? SAY Dream Center, in partnership with the Ceres Project, offers both. They provide both short and long-term housing, free on-site counseling services, and job-training/career opportunities.
I first connected with SAY Dream Center via the Ceres Project. One of the coolest non-profits in the Bay-Area, Ceres trains youth in commercial culinary kitchens how to prepare organic, farm-to-table meals which then get delivered by volunteers to low-income homebound clients struggling with diseases like cancer or multiple sclerosis. The youth learn valuable culinary, job, and leadership skills while experiencing the power and joy of giving back to our community.
I began dropping off bouquets of flowers to Ceres via Bouquet Fairies which my dear friend Zoe Hitchner of Front Porch Farm and I started this year. The flowers dress up the Ceres Cafe on Summerfield Rd. which recently opened for the public to come and purchase yummy, and healthy lunch items. Profits from the cafe go back into their programs and services. When SAY was offered old hospital buildings by Sutter Health, they gladly accepted and invited Ceres to join them there. The two non-profits now work closely together on the same campus with similar goals, providing holistic care and opportunities for the youth who make their way over there.