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.
You guys, it’s just so much goodness I can’t even stand it!
There’s more. I’ll hit some highlights:
Ceres Kitchen: youth can get legit credit at the Junior College by learning culinary skills here in addition to learning about where our food comes from, how to eat and cook healthfully, and how to hold a job.
Career Hub: computer labs, career counseling, job opportunities in the community with local businesses, regional parks, and more
Short-term housing: with 12 beds, communal kitchen, laundry facilities, counseling services
Long-term housing: 28 rooms, beautiful communal kitchen, laundry, counseling, job opportunities
Counseling Center: 15 beautiful rooms for therapy, special rooms for Play Therapy, Art Therapy, Group Therapy, and a SAND TRAY ROOM! (I feel like we would all benefit from the Sand Tray room. I’ll attach a photo but you basically use this tray of sand and can choose from tons of figurines and props to play out different scenarios and work through issues you’re facing. Pretty awesome.)
So, I tell you all of this to encourage you. The world hasn’t completely gone to shit. It sometimes seems that it’s trying its damndest.. But as long as there are people who care enough to stand up and help, it won’t succeed.
Chances are, there are homeless people in your community too. How can you help? What services are out there right under your nose that you aren’t aware of? Even just pointing someone to a place where they can receive help, is helping. And it doesn’t cost you anything.
If you live in Sonoma County, I strongly encourage you to go to the SAY website, poke around, and then sign up for their next tour. Kat led my tour and is amazing, passionate, and funny. It's very clear how much she, and her colleagues, loves her job.
How can you help?
Do you own a local business? Maybe you could provide a valuable job opportunity to a youth.
Do you have money? When asked, SAY staff tell me their #1 need right now is to keep their short-term housing open. That means they need donations.
Do you have time? There are a myriad of volunteer opportunities with both SAY and Ceres. Check out their websites to fill out a volunteer form. Volunteering is like medicine. Especially if you’re depressed. But even if you feel fine. It feels good to take care of one another.
Check out the Wish List under “How to Help” on the SAY website. Their street outreach team gives out helpful items to youth as they invite them off the street and into a safe environment. Things like towels, old smartphones, deodorant (new ones, not your old Speed Stick).
I hope you feel less bummed out and more inspired after reading this. Zoe and I are really excited to see how Bouquet Fairies can continue partnering with these organizations in the future. We're dreaming of flower workshops with the youth and workdays on the farm in addition to making bouquets for the clients who receive healthy meals.
Please share and please let me know what kinds of cool service opportunities you’ve been getting into lately. I can always use uplifting stories from friends and strangers.