Oct. 5, 2020
Chris Woodley • firstname.lastname@example.org
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 53,000 family household were identified as homeless on a single night in January 2019. Adults and children comprise approximately 33 percent of the homeless population in the United States. But one alum is working to ensure children who have experienced homelessness have programs to help them maintain their education, interact with other children in similar situations, and be surrounded by caring adults.
Laura Stokes, MSW '16, is the youth services coordinator for Homeless No More. The Columbia-based nonprofit provides a continuum of care to keep at-risk families together and meet their needs with appropriate services. Their facilities include Family Shelter, which provides emergency housing, and St. Lawrence Place, a 30-home transitional housing community.
“While my job duties can seemingly change every hour, I oversee all of the youth programs,” Stokes says. “This includes services for children from infants to 18 years old who participate in any of the programs we offer, including after school programs or summer camps.
Part of my job is also meeting the needs of the kids, whether helping them get connected with school resources or working with parents to navigate child care issues or the SC Voucher program. We track their school attendance and grades and stay connected with their schools for any services they may need.”
Stokes was initially interested in school social work. She began her graduate studies at the College of Social Work in 2014, shortly after earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology and religion from Wofford College. And it was her first field placement at St. Lawrence Place where her interests immediately changed, and she discovered her career path. Stokes worked part-time at St. Lawrence Place during the summer between her first and second year of graduate school. She was later hired full-time in April 2016, one month before graduating with her Master of Social Work.
The kids’ resiliency and ability to bounce back always impresses me. They smile and are excited to see me every day and are willing to do anything to succeed.
- Laura Stokes
Working for an organization where families have faced difficult situations can affect someone’s attitude. But it is the children’s positivity and excitement that make Stokes job enjoyable and fulfilling.
“I always tell people that whenever I'm having a rough day or if I need to get away from my desk, I go to our children's building and see the smiles on their faces,” Stokes says. “We make sure they feel safe, loved and cared for. That's the favorite part of my job.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed parts of Stokes’ job. She only went to her office once a week from mid-March to June 1. Most of her work consisted of emailing parents and making sure everyone was safe and to see if they had enough food or other essential needs. But the one day Stokes was in the office, she went door-to-door to check on every family and visit their children. She also made sure appropriate precautions were in place so COVID-19 did not prevent Homeless No More from hosting their annual summer camp.
“We couldn't do summer camp as it had been done previously, so we had to make it completely outdoors, which was a bit of an issue with the heat,” Stokes says. “Even though everything was outside, the kids handled it really well and did not skip a beat while having a lot of fun.”
A new activity during this year’s summer camp was provided thanks to a grant from the Central Carolina Community Foundation. Children were responsible for maintaining a garden and growing vegetables. Both shelters are in food deserts, where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited.
“Every morning the kids would harvest a different herb or vegetable, which they took home and reported back on what they had cooked and how they cooked it,” Stokes says. “They were so proud of themselves because they thought they had completely changed their diets and would become too healthy.”
But once summer camp ended and school resumed in late August, Stokes learned that some parents were considering quitting their jobs to stay home while their children did e-learning. She did not want parents to be forced into making a difficult decision, which would have had a more negative impact than COVID-19 has already dealt.
“We basically created our own e-learning academy and opened it up in our children's building, which is run by staff, interns, volunteers and me,” Stokes says. “We have kids of all ages with their devices and doing all of their schoolwork in our building. The biggest challenge is that our academy runs the gamut of different districts, schools, grades and schedules. There's still some challenges, but we know it’s worthwhile for our families.”
While children who participate in programs sponsored by Homeless No More may have suffered trauma, Stokes continues to be impressed by their positive attitudes and joy to be in a place where their lives can only improve.
“The kids’ resiliency and ability to bounce back always impresses me,” Stokes says. “They smile and are excited to see me every day, and willing to do anything to succeed.”