Finding hope without a home

Community works to uplift homeless teens

Paper+snowflakes+decorated+with+encouraging+messages+hang+on+the+ceiling+of+Kyle%E2%80%99s+Place+during+Christmas.
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Finding hope without a home

Paper snowflakes decorated with encouraging messages hang on the ceiling of Kyle’s Place during Christmas.

Paper snowflakes decorated with encouraging messages hang on the ceiling of Kyle’s Place during Christmas.

Kaitlyn Hughes

Paper snowflakes decorated with encouraging messages hang on the ceiling of Kyle’s Place during Christmas.

Kaitlyn Hughes

Kaitlyn Hughes

Paper snowflakes decorated with encouraging messages hang on the ceiling of Kyle’s Place during Christmas.

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Leah* never thought she would find more safety in her car than her home. She was parked in the middle of the pitch black Walmart parking lot, laying in the back seat of her truck with only a pillow tucked below her dark black waves and a pair of thin clothes. The heat choked her breathing and the wind violently rattled her car. Nevertheless, in all her discomfort, her eyes stayed focused on her window.

“I mostly felt uneasy and scared because I felt like someone was watching me,” Leah said. “I don’t think I ever slept more than half an hour at a time.”

It was morning before she returned home. Her mother would finally have passed out from abusing alcohol and she could sneak upstairs to her room to change her clothes. While she would have to deal with the unbearable stench of feces and vomit, at least she was safe. She could even go to school and pretend everything was normal.

Leah was one of the 672 Lewisville ISD students experiencing homelessness during the 2018-2019 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency. However, like many other students in the same situation, her state of homelessness wasn’t obvious.

“Homelessness appears to us at school like any normal person would. Because these kids get up, they put on their clothes … they still come to school, and they still sit at their desk and they still do their work,” Student Assistance Counselor Michelle Schwolert said.

Often, homeless students move from place to place to find shelter, sometimes called couch surfing, according to Kim Smith, Journey to Dream founder.

“They are staying on people’s couches, often times not even on the couch,” Smith said. “We’ve heard stories of kids who had to sleep in somebody’s closet.”

Journey to Dream was initially intended to be a substance abuse prevention program when it was founded in 2004. However, as they began to interact with teenagers, they saw that students dealt with so much more than drugs and alcohol. So they established Kyle’s Place in 2017, a teen transitional living center for homeless students in Denton County like Leah.

“We created a program that would just wrap their arms around hurting teenagers … to support them,” Smith said.

• • • 

Kaitlyn Hughes
Kyle’s Place is the only teen homeless shelter in Denton County. It was opened in 2017.

Paper snowflakes lined the ceiling of the room of Kyle’s Place last Christmas, creating a feeling of festiveness. The same positive message was written on each one: you are one of a kind.

The teenagers at Kyle’s Place sat under the decorations at a bench, gourmet jelly beans in one hand and frosting in another, ready to craft their gingerbread villages. Off to the side to aid them were volunteers and staff, Cathy Powers, Kandace Forooshani and Carol Nagel.

Nagel had never planned to volunteer after she retired from being a banker for 45 years. No matter how much her friends would pressure her to try it. They told her it was good for her. That it would give her something to occupy her time. She still refused. She didn’t see a point.

Three years into her retirement, she started to change her mind. It was February 2017 and Nagel was reading The Cross Timbers Gazette. She had come across an article about Kyle’s Place and felt inspired.

“At this point I realized volunteering was about finding that special place where I could devote my time and energy,” Nagel said.

It was unimaginable to her that there were so many teenagers in the community that didn’t have a safe place to sleep or a supportive family. She wanted to do everything she could to help.

She said she wanted to make the kids know they were important and loved.

• • •

Carol was in the kitchen at work. A boy came in and offered to help her. She asked him to cut some onions. The boy grabbed them and was confused by their color.

“What’s all this black stuff?” the boy asked.

Carol explained it was just dirt because onions grow in the ground. The boy began to chop it, his eyes watering. He called Carol over again.

“My eyes are tearing like crazy from this,” he said.

It was the first time he cut an onion.

Carol was there for many of the teens’ first moments. She was there when they mixed cookie dough for the first time or baked pizza. And at each first, she was excited to help them learn.

“The most touching moments are teaching the kids something,” Nagel said. “It’s just nice to give them some exposure to things and some joy.”

Kaitlyn Hughes
Volunteer Carol Nagel stands outside of the Kyle’s Place garden. Nagel plans to eventually expand the garden and plant with the teens.

Her coworkers could easily see her energy and encouraging attitude when it came to helping the kids.

“Miss Carol is a really encouraging individual,” Kyle’s Place staff member Kandace Forooshani said. “She encourages me, she encourages the residents.”

Nagel wants to continue to uplift the teens at Kyle’s Place in the future by making the shelter feel more welcoming.

“The smells of cooking, baking, making things like these happen makes it warm and homey, and it’s memories,” Nagel said.

Chief Executive Officer of Journey to Dream Nesa Grider says Kyle’s Place aims to make the shelter feel like a family.

“We discuss things. People have arguments like families. I would just say this is a big family which has 14 kids,” Grider said.

However, the shelter is not able to house every homeless student in Lewisville ISD. With limited space and resources, Kyle’s Place accommodates as many as it can.

“We never say no. If we cannot support a teen that comes to our front door, we do not allow them to leave until we can find a resource for them, whether it’s another foundation or we provide food or gift cards,” Grider said.

Aware of the long waitlist at shelters, the counselors try their best to empower these teens and let them know that they can navigate through this.

“Regardless of whether it’s going to be a two day waiting list or two month waiting list, we always want to make sure the students feel like they are trying to do something,” Schwolert said.

Leah advises students who are in a similar situation as her to keep seeking as many resources as they can and find a stable environment.

“Fight to be independent. Do anything you can to get away from an unsafe situation,” Leah said.

Students can contribute to helping homeless teens in the community by not only donating to Kyle’s Place but also giving supplies to the Marcus Market. The Market is located in the front office and provides drinks, snacks, school supplies, hygiene products, and clothes to students in need.

Scholwert said students can offer support in other ways too by “not treating [homeless students] any differently, not bullying, and being kind.”

“Just talk to them … because they are humans and they should be treated with respect,” Schwolert said.

*This name was changed to protect the identity.