Medford's Hearts With A Mission youth center will use its $10,000 grant from the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation to support the center's "life coach" program, which encourages success and healthier living among youths at the facility.
Hearts With A Mission is a nonprofit organization that provides temporary housing for homeless youths between the ages of 10 and 17 in Jackson County. The facility has housed 270 youths since its opening in 2009.
Founder and Executive Director Kevin Lamson describes the life coaches as the "heart of the organization" and says the grant will help to support the nine paid staff members who serve as life coaches at the agency.
The life coaches are trained to handle crisis situations as well as to provide basic support and are available at Hearts With a Mission at all times.
Life coaches are intentionally close in age to the youths they work with to make connections easily and share common interests in terms of language and music with those they are helping. Life coaches often serve as mentors as they live and work alongside the youths in doing chores, homework and other daily activities.
"They develop real authentic relationships with (the life coaches)," said Lamson.
Life coaches talk with the youths about their lives, school, families and what they would like in their futures. Lamson compared the relationships to that of a big brother or big sister.
"What we're trying to do is show kids what a healthy family environment looks like," said Lamson.
Many of the youths who seek shelter from Hearts With A Mission come from unhealthy family situations, which prompts the organization's staff to work with the youths on developing family skills as well as general life skills to better prepare them.
"The primary goal is to make sure that everyone who comes into HWAM stays safe," said Lamson.
Case Manager Ryan Marrs noted that the life coaches serve as significant figures in the youths' lives and often establish relationships that continue after they leave the shelter.
"They're leaving here with a support network," said Marrs.
For more information about Hearts with a Mission, see heartswithamission.org.
Shannon Houston is a student at Southern Oregon University and a reporting intern with the Mail Tribune.