Harris County, TX – When it was time for Xavier to leave a Harris County, Texas residential care facility, he was better, but needed more.
“I didn’t have direction; I was treading unknown waters, sailing on a sea, no island, nowhere to go,” he said. “Lots of guilt, shame, and sorrow for what I caused and the harm that was caused to me.”
Xavier went to a transitional emergency shelter for kids classified by the Texas child welfare system as children without placement or “CWOP” youth.
At the emergency shelter, Xavier met kids whose stories were unique, but with a common thread – no place to call home. Some had run from foster care. Others had returned from youth justice facilities to families unprepared or afraid to let them come back. Many had difficult, abusive, or volatile relationships with parents and guardians or their partners.
A couple of weeks after he got to the shelter, Xavier met Shalina Holmes and Alice Johnson from Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.
“The Advocates just came out of nowhere with a smile, open eyes, love and care,” Xavier said.
Johnson and Holmes are part of the Safely Home pilot program that YAP began last year with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) aimed at reconnecting CWOP youth with their families or fictive kin.
“The fact that there’s anyone that generous, and sweet, actually willing to help. The love is infinite and eternal,” Xavier said. “I saw that God puts people in my life who can lift me up.”
A 48-year-old national nonprofit is 35 states and the District of Columbia, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health and other systems delivering community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, residential care, and neighborhood violence. YAP’s goal working with TDFPS is to find safe alternatives for children without placement, to prevent disruption of foster care placements, and to provide individual and family services as youth are coming home from out-of-state justice and other residential facilities.
Holmes and Johnson spent hours with Xavier, getting to know and understand him. They contacted the parent who raised him and facilitated a meeting with the two of them. At the same time, the YAP team worked with Xavier and guided him as he designed an individualized service plan that builds on his strengths. It was clear to the YAP team how much Xavier loves to learn and write and how easily he expresses his thoughts and feelings.
“I take a journal everywhere I go,” he said. “I’m very charismatic. I’m very good at leading; I’m good at learning quickly; I’m learning math quickly; I’m inquisitive; my motivation is ceaseless. I read all the time,” he said.
As the team got to know Xavier’s parent, they began providing services to help facilitate trust and reconciliation.
“Things have calmed down. A lot has been resolved. We’ve healed a lot,” Xavier said.
When Xavier turned 17 a few months ago, Holmes and Johnson worked with his case worker to connect him with DFPS Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) services. They also arranged for him to have YAP Supported Work, a resource that enables Xavier to have a job at the emergency facility. When Xavier shared his story at a PAL group meeting, DFPS invited him to become part of its Youth Leadership Council and to speak at a statewide conference.
“I was really blessed and thankful. It made my day and allowed my heart to be filled.”
Xavier understands that returning home may not be possible, at least not yet. But with support from YAP, he has a better understanding of the complexities of his reality from his parent’s perspective. He sees progress and feels hopeful about his future.
“I am resilient, but I needed to ask for help,” he said. “I knew there were loving, kind people out there. They say so many inspiring words that keep me motivated. It’s just amazing.”
YAP continues to communicate with Xavier’s parent and other relatives with the goal of getting him safely home with relatives or in an independent living situation where he has the love and support of family.
“I’ve always known the mind is like a mirror. Our past, traumas, guilt, shame, and burden put mud on the mirror,” he said. “Now, with YAP, I see myself in a whole new horizon. Instead of looking at the murky swamp, I see a stunning sunrise.”
Xavier is empowered by the possibilities and the opportunities afforded him to share his story statewide with other CWOP kids and people who are in a position to provide resources to help them.
“It allows me to alleviate pain. Even if I just touch one heart, I’m happy,” he said.
“Xavier is an extremely articulate smart young man, said Xavier Etherly, Xavier’s caseworker. “He’s proven to be a leader amongst his peers and always has a positive upbeat attitude.”
Learn more about YAP and donate to support the nonprofit’s work at www.YAPInc.org