There are approximately 12,000 unaccompanied and/or homeless youth in Clark County, Nevada. This includes about 700 of whom are high school seniors. In Orange County, Florida, we have 300 homeless high school seniors.
Lots of kids leave home to come to college. Theresa Butler came to college to find a home.
Homeless throughout high school, and struggling with a mother facing drug addiction, Butler is one of six freshmen who form the inaugural class of the UNLV HOPE Scholars Program. She now lives on campus and is driven to achieve her goal of one day earning a medical degree and opening a clinic.
“I got help getting into UNLV without worrying about where I was going to live, and whether or not I would be kicked out of my house the next day,” says Butler, who had been couch-surfing with friends and struggling to find a safe place to stay.
“HOPE relieved that stress so I could focus on my dreams, and focus on the things that matter.”
Last week, five students completed their freshman year at UNLV. This might seem unremarkable, but these kids faced a particular challenge: They’re homeless and don’t have parents or guardians to offer the usual support.
How did they do it? They’re the first participants in UNLV’s HOPE Scholars Program, which helps homeless Clark County youth attend college. Partnering with the Clark County School District’s Title I HOPE initiative (Homeless Outreach Program for Education) and Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, UNLV HOPE offers year-round housing, financial support, employment and counseling.
One year in, the program has been a triumph. “I’m succeeding, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” says one female participant (name withheld for privacy), who suffered abuse and neglect from her parents. She’d kept good grades, even as she moved from house to house, uncertain of any future.
This year, the goal is to admit eight new students (five have been admitted, and three sit on a wait list). And the original five are working to help. They’re raising money through rebelraiser.unlv.edu, a crowdfunding site developed by the UNLV Foundation. The students are hoping to raise $15,000 by the June 2 campaign deadline; so far, just over half of that has been donated. The money goes towards necessities such as textbooks, meal plans, and room and board.
While seemingly simple, these provisions can make a huge difference. Program coordinator (and executive director of Housing and Residential Life) Richard Clark says that many of the HOPE Scholar students told him they wouldn’t have been able to attend UNLV otherwise. “The year-round housing is the key thing, to move in right after graduation, to get acclimated to campus,” he says. “We do a full-blown orientation [and] talk about what it means to be in college.”