Featured Program: Home Away From Homelessness
Welcome To Home Away
Interview with Emily Bouton, Volunteer Coordinator & Program Assistant
What is Home Away?
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Emily Bouton to learn all about Home Away's amazingness. Emily, originally from Albany, New York, started with Home Away as an Americorp member and has moved up from there. With a background focusing on mental health support, cognitive science, and arts education, Emily has worked across all different areas before coming to Home Away around two years ago. The program's overall mission is to provide emotional, social, academic, and community support to middle and high school students who have been or are experiencing homelessness. The youth in the program come from varying degrees of homing stability, and Home Away creates a stable environment, truly emphasizing the strength of relationships.
Emily describes the Home Away program as a "small and very close-knit community". The students have a tutor they work with 1:1 and the group is small enough to build meaningful relationships. Located in the Home Away School House home in Fort Mason, the students each have their very own nooks with their desks to work at. It's such a warm and welcoming environment, and many students have returned year after year. Throughout the school year, the students come there every day after classes. During the summer the students travel to a variety of places, including white water rafting excursions and camping! The program helps set the High Schoolers up with internships and excursions year-round to make sure the kids find the time for fun outside of working on their academics.
Growth & Success
On top of providing support and stability to the students, the program has added college and career programs recently. The dedicated staff members help the students apply to colleges, explore professional programs, and apply for internships. As Emily explains, "Most of the students in the program are 1st generation and all come from immigrant backgrounds, so having other adults to support through that process has been really helpful. Many students have already been accepted into colleges this year, which has been really exciting!"
Day to Day at Home Away
What does the typical day look like?
Emily tells me that the "students arrive after school, typically around 4 pm. They have a variety of activities like sports and projects to work on." Every day they have a community meeting, followed by tutoring, and one of the highlights is their nightly family-style dinner. The goal with the tutors is to set them up in a way to establish more long-term mentorships and relationships. The way it is set up, the students work with the same tutor every Monday, Tuesday, and so on for consistency.
As for the end of the evening, the group dinner, they set up the dining table nicely, have dinner conversation starters, and offer up some points of reflection. "Each night a volunteer chef comes in to cook the dinner. Home Away has a volunteer base of around 50 people who help cook and do the tutoring" Emily explains. The chefs sign up to cook for however many days a semester they’d like. Many of the volunteers have been doing this for years! Emily shares how "one particular chef has cooked every Thursday night for the past 20 years. One chef used to be a cruise director who does special holidays." After dinner is finished chores are assigned and around 7:30 pm the evening comes to an end and the students are driven home by the staff.
How do you connect with various communities to get students enrolled in Home Away?
Emily explains that they typically go through a few different channels to connect with students who would benefit from the program. They have relationships within the different middle and high schools, as well as with social workers, counselors, and various shelters.
My Visit With Home Away
Emily and her colleagues so kindly invited me to join one of their group dinners at the schoolhouse home. When I arrived, I was so enamored with how homey and relaxing the schoolhouse home is. As I walked in, one of the students was playing piano with Director Diallo. Other students were helping set the table and pass out plates and cups, and there was just an overall air of positivity and community. Before we sat down, one of the senior students led us in a grounding community-building activity. We all held hands around the table, and with a gentle squeeze we "passed the pulse" around the table in a wave-like motion. This is followed by a delicious home-cooked meal of Persian chicken, rice, and a delicious fresh salad. It was a lovely and meaningful visit for me, and I'm so glad they welcomed me into their space!
What Would You Like The BACR Community To Know About Home Away?
Emily tells me how Home Away is so dynamic in nature, with such a dedicated team that where they see a need, they can find someone and make it happen. They are so open to connections with all sorts of organizations and programs. "There's so much untapped potential in BACR that we can tap into. It's always nice to have new volunteers: if anyone's interested in volunteering in the space, maybe cooking a meal, leading a workshop, we are always looking". Emily continues to describe how "the space is so sweet. It feels comfortable and welcoming. The space really belongs to the kids, and they really welcome all new adults". The Home Away community tight-knit so tight-knit, one staff member, who runs the college and career program, was a volunteer for 10 years before signing on as a staff member. It really shows how special a community they have built, where volunteers and students continue to come back year after year. Emily proudly tells me how they have 4-5 students going off to college this year and want the community to know how hard these kiddos have worked and pushed themselves. A huge round of applause to these dedicated students and staff!
What's in the future for Home Away?
In the coming months, Home Away is having a log of new middle school students joining their community. The program is going to take on a whole new life from having mostly High School students. "A whole new set of needs comes with the new younger students, who need different levels of support," Emily tells me. At different points, they may be calling on the BACR community for support and resources. As they're looking toward their summer programming, they are hoping for connections for cooking classing, workshops, internships, and electives. If you or your program are interested in partnering or volunteering with Home Away, reach out to Emily Bouton - email@example.com