A covenant kept

Jun 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

The word "family" kept cropping up at a festive gathering held on Detroit's west side last Friday afternoon, even though none of the people involved were actually related. It just felt that way when some of the young men and women who have passed through Covenant House came back for a reunion.

As burgers and hot dogs sizzled on two grills, a DJ pumped out thumping tunes and the kids did some serious booty shaking on an asphalt basketball court underneath a cloudless June sky.

This is a place homeless teens and young adults can turn to when they have no other options. The idea for a reunion sprang from a project currently under way that involves CH staff tracking down and interviewing former clients to see how they are faring now that they are out in the world on their own.

Given that most of these kids never graduated from high school, and many have tenuous relations with their actual relatives, the idea was to provide them with an event that was part class reunion and part family reunion. Mostly, though, it was a way to show them that, even though they no longer live at Covenant House, they've not been forgotten.

"Since a lot of them don't have a supportive family, one of the reasons we wanted to do this is to let them know we're still thinking about them," explained Illene Bosley, director of the nonprofit's "aftercare" program.

Covenant House has been around since 1997, says marketing director Melissa Golpe, and has, in one way or another, provided services to 35,000 kids in the years since the place first opened. Most of its funding comes from the public; of the more than $5 million donated to the faith-based nonprofit in 2007, less than $600,000 came in the form of government grants.

Along with allowing old friends to reconnect, Friday's event also gave current residents a chance to hear from alumni who have stepped out on their own.

"I'm kind of nervous," one of those alumni, Aaron Ayler, said as he stepped to the microphone.

"There's no need to be nervous," someone in the crowd shouted back. "This is Covenant House. We're all family here."

Ayler, who attends Wayne State University and plans to go to law school, said that when he first came to Covenant House he was "a reckless individual" who believed that he could deal with life without help from anyone. It wasn't until he started getting the assistance provided by Covenant House that he found out how mistaken he was.

"I learned that I can't get through this world by myself."

Danielle Martin, a 21-year-old alumnae who is taking classes at Wayne County Community College with plans to become a special education teacher, took the opportunity to encourage others to persevere, saying she'd once been where they are, and that they can be where she is now if they persevere.

With a mother who was unable to take care of her, Martin was sleeping on friends' couches before finding Covenant House. "It gave me a family environment, which is something I really needed," she said.

Asked by News Hits where she thinks she might be now were it not for Covenant House, Martin shuddered a little, saying, "I don't even want to think about that."

It's a safe bet there are lots more who don't want to imagine where'd they would be now had Covenant House not been there to provide them with food, clothes, shelter, training, guidance and, perhaps most important of all, emotional support.

"No question about it, I would not be where I am without this place," said Anthony Hugger, 26. A shift manager at a fast-food restaurant, he's working toward a master's degree in communications.

"When I came here, I had nothing. Literally nothing but the clothes on my back," said Hugger. "They gave me the tools to survive. They taught me how to get a job, and how to keep a job. They gave me the motivation to be successful."

As with the adult homeless population, many of the kids who come here from the streets suffer from mental illnesses. Once in the program, they are evaluated and, if necessary, placed on medication. 

Looking on as kids danced, clapped, hugged old friends, tossed around a football, and generally enjoyed the cookout, Golpe remarked: "They come in here angry and sad, feeling like everybody is against them. Then they come back for something like this, and they're so happy to see you. And all that anger is gone."

Many of the people attending Friday's event wore T-shirts with a message emblazoned on the back: "I care about homeless kids. You
can too."

To get started, visit the organization's website at covenanthousemi.org.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]