Insight News

Apr 24th

From homelessness to connectedness, empowerment, and self-reliance

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youthlinkVoyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS), the national leader in experiential and outdoor education, has teamed up with Minneapolis-based YouthLink to connect homeless young adults to the outdoors. With funding from Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota, the program, called S.T.A.R.T. (Surviving to Thriving a Real Transition), focuses on creating a new approach to support some of the area's most vulnerable young adults. S.T.A.R.T. is the first known program in the country that melds education and social services in an effort to combat homelessness.

YouthLink ( works with homeless youth and young adults to build healthy relationships and to open doors of opportunity to futures of empowerment, connectedness and self-reliance. Last year, 2,291 homeless young people ages 16-23 turned to YouthLink as a safe and supportive refuge from life on the street. This number is up 27 percent from 2011. The net result is a perfect storm of hyper-vulnerable young people who are ill-prepared for adulthood facing a system they may not trust and do not understand.

"Many homeless youth are stuck in an unforgiving cycle, only able to focus on the most basic and current need at hand -- be it their next meal or a place to sleep for the night," said Heather Huseby, executive director of YouthLink. "They need help and guidance from a trustworthy and reliable source to reframe who they are and where they are going in life."

Always looking for new programs to provide homeless youth and young adults with a healthy social network led YouthLink to VOBS. Together, they have created a unique partnership and a fresh way to build stability and trust, which are critical on their path to independence.

"VOBS's programs help people of all ages and from all walks of life discover the strength of their character, their ability to lead and their determination to succeed," said Jack Lee, executive director of VOBS. "Through expeditions, participants gain self-reliance, trust and support, while learning from each other."

Part of Outward Bound, VOBS connects individuals with their inner strength and leadership qualities through outdoor expeditions. Over the course of the nine month program, which began in 2012, young adults ages 19-23 in the S.T.A.R.T. initiative participate in numerous types of experiential leadership, team- and confidence-building programs, including backpacking and hiking, rock climbing and canoeing, and skiing and snowshoeing. Now in its second cohort of S.T.A.R.T., VOBS participants are currently in their third month of programming, which works with up to ten students each year.

The results of the first year's program are remarkable. More than 90 percent of the graduates are in their own housing, most of them paying their own rent; more than 80 percent are working; and most are back in school.

"These outdoor experiences can be transformational because the programs can help young adults – particularly those at risk -- change their lives through challenge and discovery," said Lee.

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