By David Leazenby, Outreach Board Chair
This year Outreach is celebrating 20 years of service to homeless youth in Indianapolis. There have been over 7,500 kids, 4,300 volunteers, and 32 staff who have counted Outreach among their work or their blessing. Oftentimes, it has been both. There are countless stories of darkness, pain and loss. Fortunately, there are more stories of healing, triumph and redemption. As a board member of two years, I have had a front row seat to the problem of homelessness in Indianapolis and what a team of devoted staff and volunteers can accomplish in fighting it. I have learned a lot, but the most important thing I have learned is that while Outreach fits into the category of a “homeless” organization, it doesn’t provide housing at all. It provides something much more important: hope, in the form of relationship, advocacy, and sustainability.
The organization began in the shadows of our streets in 1996 and has grown to an annual budget of $1.2M and a staff of 16. The founder and current CEO, Eric Howard, simply started serving food and water to kids under bridges out of his car, on his own dime as a recent college graduate. That act of selfless service still permeates the culture of the organization today. We call it relationship and it is the first of our core values. We see it every time one our staff connects with a youth, builds trust, and earns a friendship.
Let’s be clear about what we are talking about: these are kids as young as 14 and young adults in their early 20’s who have been orphaned by their parents. Due to abuse, neglect, drugs, or violence they are pushed aside during their most important years of learning how to be an adult. They become orphans in our neighborhoods, without an address, money, clothes or food. They have experienced the loss of parental love and they have no one on their side. This is where the heart of Outreach lives. We call it advocacy and it is the second of our core values. We see it every time one of our staff stands up for a youth, helps them get a job or fill out a college application.
The work of Outreach includes basic needs such as meals, showers and laundry, as well as counseling and programs on the streets and in public schools. Our mission is to equip and empower homeless teens and young adults to achieve stability and life transformation. Our ultimate goal is for our kids to enter into adulthood knowing their true identity, as a child of God, with talents and a purpose, capable of planning their own futures. This development of character is what we call sustainability and is our third and final core value. We see it when our youth discover their passions, find meaningful work or graduate from college.
Indeed, I have learned that homelessness is a real problem, but being without a home is really a symptom of other deeper problems that begin in families and spills out in ugly and destructive ways. Once it does, it’s everyone’s to own. I am thankful for the many donors and volunteers that have stepped up to provide hope despite this reality. You will read from other board members and staff throughout this year with highlights of our programs and the work that our staff do every day. If you don’t know much about us, follow along and check us out.