Think back to when you were sixteen—who were your friends? Who did you talk to when you needed someone? Who supported you when you made a mistake? What were you worrying about? How were you spending your days?
For the young people New Day supports, many of them are worrying about where they will sleep at night. We work to create space for them to find safety, to connect, talk, and access the supports that are needed and wanted.
The teen and young adulthood periods of life are incredibly difficult and vulnerable times for everyone. For young people without a lot of support or a safety net, this time can become isolating, unstable and set young people up for longer term challenges. Without the safety nets that many of us rely on during this time, young people experiencing homelessness and other complex traumas can become disconnected. Some of the possible paths are dropping out of high school, having a hard time finding and keeping a job, and entering into unhealthy relationships. They become isolated and, in this isolation, they stop trusting or even looking for help or hope.
New Day works to interrupt that cycle. New Day started in 1976 as one of Albuquerque’s first youth shelters. Since then, we have grown to offer a diverse set of services and supports that meet young people where they are and when they are in their journey to adulthood. We’ve built an ecosystem of services to help them ranging from a crisis shelter, Life Skills Academy, transitional housing supports, a drop-in center, street outreach, and comprehensive care coordination.
But our services are not the most important part of New Day. What we have learned about this age is that the strongest intervention is connection and feeling seen, not the service itself. Having safe relationships with positive adults and peers is the best way we have found to bridge the loneliness and disconnection of young people experiencing homelessness and marginalization.
Here are a few things we know after doing this work for over 45 years.
We know that every young person has strengths and talents, and we know that these strengths are what will help them move forward in meaningful ways. We know that young people do not need to be “fixed.” They, like all of us, need people to show up during the hard times, willing to sit in discomfort with them, and offer resources and skill-building opportunities when requested. We are joining young people on their journey, sometimes as mentors, sometimes as support and sometimes as a resource.
It is not about what we do, but rather, how we do it. We have services that help young people get into housing, find jobs, get back into school, and access medical and mental health care. Will those things solve homelessness? Can a job solve poverty? Are any services capable of solving deep complex trauma?
This is a lesson that New Day learned the hard way. Several years ago, we started helping youth in our transitional housing programs get jobs. We helped them develop resumes, find job openings, and navigate the process of getting hired. What we discovered when we called their employers a few months later, is that the young person had been fired or quit. Sometimes for interpersonal conflicts, sometimes for failing to show up on time, or at all. Instead of asking why the young person didn't succeed at the job we asked ourselves how we could prepare them better to take on the world. This question grounds much of the work we do at New Day.
This lesson led us to create our First Job Opportunity, a paid culinary internship. The internship is designed for young people who have never held a job or who have been unable to successfully keep a job. It teaches – and gives opportunities to practice – the fundamental functional and emotional skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. The First Job Opportunity encompasses five key components that youth work on throughout the 10-week internship. The components are career exploration, employability, job readiness, experiential learning, and employment support. It also includes an advanced three-week session focused on marketing, sales, and customer service. Young people in the program learn the basic skills necessary to get and keep a job, and they develop strong relationships with our Career Exploration Guide and life skills coaches. Those relationships can prove to be the most important part of the internship.
A few years ago, a young man, Hunter, left the First Job Opportunity early. He had applied and been hired at a local restaurant. Instructors were proud but made sure he knew that he always had a safe place at New Day. Like many first jobs, he had a hard time navigating interpersonal issues and had a boss he didn’t get along with at all. He left that job and knew that he could come back to New Day, meet with our Life Skills coaches and regroup. They helped him understand that not all jobs are a good fit, that it was okay for him to quit, and to look at the lessons he could take forward.
The most important work that happens with young people is not within the services—it is in the relationships that bloom between young people and our staff. There is no one story of homelessness or marginalization. Each young person comes to their situation in a unique way. Everyone who comes to New Day is a unique individual, stuck at an age where everything is new to them. Our staff helps them through that challenging time of living in their own apartment for the first time, shopping for themselves, getting their first job, and managing finances. They become a positive adult ally for young people. Oftentimes, they become the first positive adult a young person has in their life.
There are countless stories of young people just like Hunter. Young people who have learned not to trust adults, not to trust the system, not to see themselves as fully whole and part of the community. They are disconnected from their community in every way, and they do not know what services they need, let alone what is available to them.
Everyone has a path to adulthood, and while every journey is unique, the need for connection is universal. New Day works to empower young people to see their own strengths, know that they can accomplish great things on their own, and know when to ask for help. Research tells us that one of the most important ways to overcome trauma and hardship is through protective factors like safe adult allies and relationships. That is what New Day strives to give each young person who walks through our doors – whether they are with us for a few hours or for a few years. Safe adults they can trust, who tell them they have strengths, show them what they are capable of, and welcome them back time after time; that is what we know can create lasting change for a young person.
This work must continue because there are so few options for this age group – 11 to 24 – experiencing homelessness and marginalization. Without access to resources and safe adult allies, it is likely that the path towards adult and chronic homelessness will continue. We are asking you to step up and be a part of their journey. Join us in this movement to see young people not as needing to be fixed, but as fully whole and ready to engage with the world in a positive way – if only they have the support, tools, and relationships they need. You can be that support.