Friday, August 19, 2011

Housing Scams are Alive and Thriving in Northern Virginia

AYM clients work toward having a place of their own to call home. Scam artists work toward swindling money from vulnerable people. One weekend, an AYM client contacted staff to ask for $1,600 from her escrow account to cover the deposit and first month’s rent for a house with all utilities were included. She was so excited as she described the house – a fenced in backyard for her children to play, washing machine and dryer in the basement, close to excellent schools! The “owner” had given her a tour of the property earlier that day, but he was leaving the country the next day for six years. He claimed he was looking to provide a needy family with a home, which is why the rent was so inexpensive. All the AYM client had to do was send him a money gram for $1,600 and he would send her the key and rental agreement once he received the money.

This AYM client had been in the AYM program for over a year, where she made great progress, including completing an employment training program, obtained full-time employment, had a car, and had saved money in preparation for transitioning out of the program. She was ready to live independently. Staff discussed the reality of the situation with the client and emphasized that something that seemed too good to be true probably was. Despite this conversation, the client was ready to go forward because she believed in the "owner." Luckily, staff was able to get in touch with the actual realtor and confirmed that rent was $2,700 a month, not the $800 she had been told. The realtor was aware that someone had posted a fraudulent ad offering the house for rent and was working with the police to apprehend him. The next day, the "owner" called the client five times pressuring her for the money. When she confronted him with the truth, he hung up. She was devastated, but thankful that she had gained valuable life experience without losing $1,600. AYM staff are working with her to locate an affordable living setting, as she is ready for independence.

Susie Guido, LPC
Residential Therapist
Alternative House

An Intern Shares

I have enjoyed my time interning at Alternative House. Before doing my internship here I did not know what to expect from working with kids, since this is was my first time working with teens. I have enjoyed every time I have spent with them. I feel my experience here gave me an opportunity to see another field in psychology since my major is in forensics. I will truly miss the kids and counselors.

Luisa Suisa
Graduate Student
Argosy University

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shelter Volunteer finds a position on our AYM staff

I chose to volunteer at the Alternative House due to the horrible job market and economy when I graduated from James Madison University. I had been a waitress all throughout college and on breaks so that I could pay for college, thus I did not really have that much experience in my field. It sounds cliché to say that my passion is helping people, especially troubled teens, but ever since I was young that is what I knew I wanted to do. I volunteered at the Alternative House for approximately a year and a half. I felt at home almost immediately when I entered AH, the counselors were very upbeat, refreshing and honest. The program at AH, the more I learned about it, was something I was proud to be a part of. About a month ago I was encouraged to move forward with a career, to use my degree and my experience and make a place for myself in the world. I applied for the Program Assistant position in a program under the Alternative House, called Assisting Young Mothers or AYM. The experience and mentoring I received at AH along with my strengths were perfect assets in landing me the PA position. Programs like AH and AYM are a good example of what good people and good hearts can do, and how we can make a difference in people’s lives individually, in the families, and in the community. All of the programs underneath the umbrella of the Alternative House help populations that are so often overlooked, individuals who more often than not fall through the cracks of our society without someone taking so much as glance back. I think that every person can make a difference, some of the greatest leaders and icons of our time have come from troubled backgrounds and obstacle filled pasts; you cannot make it in this world without a little encouragement or a helping hand, which is what I believe AH gives to this vital population in our society. While I was sad to leave the Shelter at the Alternative House, I have found my place in the AYM program and am proud and happy to still be a part of the AH community.

Angel Cregge
Program Assistant
AYM (Assisting Young Mothers)
Alternative House

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Alternative to Homelessness

The first young man who entered our Homeless Youth Initiative has become my “poster child” for telling people about what a difference this program makes in people’s lives.

“John” was 18 and a junior in high school when his father kicked him out of the house. His Dad had a substance abuse problem and often acted erratically. John went from friend to friend, “couch surfing” until he ran out of friends in late August; just before the start of his senior year. A social worker placed him in a small adult homeless shelter.

His very first night there John was propositioned by his roommate. The next morning, he fled the shelter and was sleeping in the bleachers of his high school football stadium because that was where he felt safest.

Alternative House has an emergency shelter for teenagers that provides a safe haven to runaway, homeless and abused young people 13-17-years old, but John was 18. We were able to get a waiver of the rules and brought John in to safety.

Working with the faith community, we located a woman who would rent a room to John. It was close to his high school, his girlfriend and his job, but John couldn’t make enough money to cover the rent and continue to attend school. Through Alternative House’s Homeless Youth Initiative, we were able to pay $325 a month towards his $500 rent. John paid the rest.

John stayed in school and graduated on time. He is working full-time as a car salesman and his employers love him. He’s also going to community college. The small investment this community made in John has resulted in a young man with a future versus a homeless high school drop-out. It also means we have a successful citizen not someone in our shelters or jail. Everyone wins here.

Judith Dittman is executive director of Alternative House, the abused and homeless children’s refuge.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I know there’s a place I can go and be safe

Alternative House is a really good place to be whenever you’re having problems at home. As soon as I walked in Alternative House, the staff treated me good. Ashley gave me a toothbrush & toothpaste – anything I needed until my mom came by and dropped off my stuff. The staff here is amazing. They’re the nicest people I’ve ever met. They show you they care about you and they discuss topics and answer questions that you have. The counselors help you and I trust them enough to open up and talk about the personal issues at home. They give the best advice and help you work on whatever things you feel you have to work on. Alternative House is one of the best places I have ever been in. I feel safe and now I am going to work on myself. I learned to listen better and whenever I’m angry I will find the best solution and never walk out whenever I get mad or not get what I want. I feel like a better person.

I am going to truly miss the counselors and the other staff because they’re like my family now. In the little time I’ve been here I can already say all of this. If I ever have a problem at home, I know there’s a place I can go and be safe. There is always room for improvement, nobody is perfect and there are people in the world that care about someone like me. Alternative House helps you solve problems you are facing at home. They make you realize what is important in life. People, such as friends come and go, but family there is only one. Think about the positive things in life and try not to think about the negatives. If you feel like you don’t have anybody there for you or feel alone and are in need of advice they have a 24 hour crisis line. Don’t ever think you are alone in life because you are not. My stay here at Alternative House has been fun and I know if I ever need advice on a personal home situation, they’re here for me. Thank you Alternative House. My stay here has been the best. I’m going to miss you guys a lot and I will visit you guys whenever I can.

Shelter Resident (age 15)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Shelter Intern from American University

As an upcoming senior Psychology major at American University,my decision to intern at Alternative House was based on a recommendation from my advisor to get involved in the psychology field hands on. I chose Alternative House because I knew I wanted to work with adolescents and I loved the warm atmosphere I experienced when I first visited the Shelter for my interview. I enjoyed working with every resident that stayed here, and loved the experience of seeing each and every one of our youths grow during their time with us. Additionally, the staff are all very warm and welcoming, allowing me to feel right at home from my very first day. I have learned so much during the few months I have interned here and will carry the knowledge I have gained through this experience as I continue my education and ultimately begin my career path.

Emily Sherer
Alternative House Intern

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Trip to the Zoo by a Shelter Resident

Wake up! As one of the staff yells to the fellow residents as the sun is rushing to show. Residents got up and out the door by 7:00 am and headed immediately to a fun adventure at the D.C animal zoo. Everyone tried to stay positive, we had to take a detour because one of our staff members got lost and drove around in circles. While that was going on, one of our residents became car sick and barfed. Staff immediate stopped the car at the nearest sidewalk, and waited for him to finish. Finally back on the road, we were jamming to our radio tunes. We were headed on our way to the zoo determined for no more detours. Arriving at the zoo, we first got breakfast sandwiches. After eating we saw the cheetahs lying still as they soaked up morning sun. Then walking around we saw pandas peeling and eating bamboo. The Lionesses and her cubs playfully fighting were also great. The aged tiger yelling helplessly at his audience, great to see how a tiger calls out. The naked mole-rats scattering around looking for breakfast; Armadillos hiding in their little ball scared of all the eyes. Starry eyed owls that often looked lost. Long stretching zebras that stayed near home around family. Lazy bears who weren’t interested in giving us a show. Watching the Gorilla family as the mother’s breast drooped to her knees. Exotic energetic monkeys who kept climbing. Beautiful underwater plants, above ground plants and many more. Residents enjoyed a mix up for group and had fun with the bond they had with Mother Nature.

Shelter Resident
16 year old, male

Friday, August 5, 2011

Young mother needs dental care

This week I had my teeth cleaned and a cavity filled. Instead of my usual dread of the dentist, I am thankful that I can afford to take care of my teeth. Dental care is a luxury for many people. One of my clients, a young mother in our AYM program, has four impacted wisdom teeth that need to be surgically removed. The wisdom teeth don’t care that she has no dental insurance or funds to pay for this surgery, they are coming in regardless. These four teeth are coming in underneath her molars and one is coming in sideways through her gum line causing extreme pain. Her insurance covers urgent care clinics and emergency rooms that are more than willing to provide pain medication, but if she takes the pain medication then she cannot function at work or take care of her toddler. A local dentist provided x-rays pro-bono and directed me to an area dental clinic that requires a referral from one of four agencies. One agency listed on their website no longer participates in the program. The two others I could get no one to return my calls. Since that initial call two weeks ago, I have talked with eight individuals, two hospitals that offer low-cost dental surgery and two local non-profits that assist with medical issues. Every phone call generated another one – I was passed from person to person, referred to different agencies with no resolution. I am frustrated with the process and can only imagine how clients feel when they are passed on without anyone listening to their dilemma. Alternative House is a referring agency for reduced dental care provided by area oral surgeons; however, 50% of the cost of impacted wisdom teeth surgery is $1,300 – and that was the least expensive provider. Payment plans are not an option. What do people do when there is an issue that requires immediate attention? Right now the only answer I know is to suffer. So far, my efforts have been ineffective, but I will continue to make calls because I do not accept the responses I have received. Society can do better.

Susie Guido, LPC
Residential Therapist
Alternative House

Thursday, August 4, 2011

From a Shelter Intern

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time working at Alternative House. Before volunteering here I did not know what type of psychology I wanted to go into or even what my different options were. I feel my experience here gave me real insight into the world of counseling and therapy and also gave me a good feel for the type of work that I wish to continue to do in the future. I had a real great experience here, so much so I still plan on volunteering even after my internship has been completed.”
Christopher Mishik
Shelter Intern
George Mason University