New Hope For Homeless Utah Teens

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Salt Lake City (ABC4 Utah) White balloons floated to the sky Tuesday over 8th South and 4th West in Salt Lake City. They symbolized new hope and a new future for the more than 1,000 homeless teens in Utah.  Teens who many times have no place to stay or sleep and often turn to drugs and prostitution.
 
More than 500 people showed up for the grand opening celebration of the Volunteers of America new Youth Resource Center. It’s been 5 years in the planning and the VOA raised 6 million dollars, mostly through private donations, to build the new center.
 
VOA CEO and President Kathy Bray told ABC 4 she’s worn out from all the excitement. “We’ve been working a long time for this to come to fruition, that’s for sure. We’re just grateful.  I just can’t wait for the homeless youth to come in here and sleep overnight.”  
 
She thanked the many benefactors at Tuesday’s ceremony. Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox told the crowd, “this facility gives me hope and more importantly it will give hope to the young men and young women who find themselves here at a very difficult time in their lives.”
 
Shelly Tripp brought the crowd to tears and received a standing ovation as she told the terrible tale of growing up with abuse and running away from a drug dealing dad. “My father was a member of a motorcycle gang, a pretty tough one. When I was 2 and 3 years old he would take me to the bar and I would be the entertainment.” Because of her past, she’s a strong supporter of the VOA. She is now a very successful real estate agent.
 
The old VOA Youth Center on State Street was too small to provide a place for teens to sleep and was only open during the daytime. The new center will be open 24-7 for young people aged 15 to 22. They will serve 3 meals a day and provide sleeping space for 30 people. They also have individual bathrooms and showers for privacy.
 
That takes care of their physical needs, but the new center will also focus on preparing these young people for a successful future.  They have a modern computer room with 10 terminals, a learning center to help them with things like getting their GED and applying for jobs.  And there is a peaceful group therapy room to deal with emotional issues.
 
Nick Larkin has found an apartment and a job and is planning to go to college this fall and says he has the VOA youth programs to thank for his success.  He saw the new center for the first time Tuesday. “I was amazed. I was shocked. This is 4 times the size of the other building. You could fit 3 and a half of those buildings in here perfectly.” He goes on to marvel, “the space, 24-7, sleeping here. I don’t know. I’m at a loss for words.”
 
The young people will also be getting free legal advice and help at the center thanks to the hard work of attorney Nicole Lowe. She can relate to the kids. She left home at 13, was raped at 14 and then “I went on the road as a hippie and I hitchhiked all the way through California and Oregon and Washington selling lsd.” She got pregnant at 16 and when she had her son at 17, she decided to turn her life around for him.
 
She went back to school, finally got her law degree and now works in the Attorney General’s Office. She volunteers her time because she wants to help young people facing the same struggles she did.
 
All the VOA workers and volunteers voiced their excitement during Tuesday’s celebration. They can’t wait for the doors to open Thursday morning at 8:30. They want to spread the word to homeless teens that there is a place for them and there is hope for a bright future.

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