Forrest Vest is a formerly homeless 19 year-old who is starting a new foundation with help from a family friend, Debbie Michael. In this podcast, the two explain why youth who know the streets can be powerful advocates for change.
Time: 4:45 | Size: 4.6 MB
(Photo by M. Scott Moon, Peninsula Clarion)
NCFY: Welcome to Youth Speak Out, a podcast series from the Family and Youth Services Bureau. Forrest Vest is 19 and used to be homeless. Debbie Michael is his longtime family friend. Together, they are starting a foundation to help runaway youth on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Their relationship is a case study in how permanent connections with caring adults can help youth with troubled pasts become advocates and reformers.
Forrest had the idea for the foundation when he submitted an original song to a scholarship competition held by Covenant House Alaska.
FORREST: I told my mom, I said, “If I win this thing, I am not keeping a cent of the money. Whatever I have to do to help kids that are in an unfortunate situation like I was in, whatever I have to do, I’m going to do it, you know, whatever the means are. If I have to pick kids up and take them shopping and buy them clothes, food, whatever they need. Or, you know, if we find a foundation or something we can try to raise money for, we’ll do that.”
NCFY: After he won, Forrest immediately put the scholarship money into a new bank account and performed his song at the annual Covenant House Vigil for Youth Homelessness. And that’s when Debbie entered the picture.
FORREST: She had found statistics that the number one problem here is housing. So we thought, “Okay. Let’s start a fund to raise money for a homeless shelter, someplace to give these kids to stay.” I performed my song at this year’s vigil and told my story. And then from there, we were getting emails and phone calls and money was showing up in the account. And it was just an amazing thing to see. I never thought I would come back from something like I did and be wanting to help kids. I never thought something like that was in me.
The things I’ve been through are similar to what kids need right now. If we give them somewhere to go, there won’t be as much room or opportunity for them to get into the things that I got into. If we created a place where they can just go hang out, you know, to keep them busy, I think that would be awesome. And just put game rooms or something, a place somewhere for them to do homework and not be getting into the trouble that we all know people shouldn’t get into, I guess you could say.
NCFY: Debbie Michael says that Forrest’s interest in youth homelessness has put a human face on an otherwise touchy subject in their community.
DEBBIE MICHAEL: Although we’ve had a heart to have a shelter here for many years, it’s just been like plowing this hard ground to convince people that we do have a serious homeless problem here with our youth. We have a peninsula full of compassionate people. But it’s been really hard to believe that we have this problem right here in our little small town. I think Forrest just has a powerful voice that we haven’t had because he’s been through it and he’s come out on the other side.
We contacted the school district's homeless liaison. We said, “What do these kids need? How can Forrest use this money to help?” And they came back with this email with big bold print and it said “SHELTER SHELTER SHELTER. That’s the one thing we can’t provide for these kids.” I think what we’re trying, what we’re looking to provide for these kids is just the emergency bed to provide them a safe place to sleep until we can connect them with other resources and hopefully to connect them back with a loving family and hopefully their own family.
That’s what Forrest needed. He slept in places that he shouldn’t have just because those were the open doors that he had. So we want to open doors to these kids no matter what circumstance they’re coming out of. We would just like to see that safe bed for them to get them back on the right track.
NCFY: She expects Forrest’s story and enthusiasm to be the driving forces of what they’re calling the For Rest Foundation. Her job, as she sees it, is just to get his message to as many people as possible.
DEBBIE MICHAEL: Right now, we’re signed up as financial overseers on the For Rest fund because Forrest was under eighteen when it was set up. I think we're to come alongside Forrest. We’re supposed to collaborate with many other people that have had a heart for many years to help these kids. So I believe that's our role, just to be catalysts of awareness.
NCFY: For more information on starting and managing a youth program, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth, online at ncfy.acf.hhs.gov.
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