OCO Seeks Volunteer Host Homes

OSWEGO, NY – You can change a young person’s life in just one night.

Oswego County Opportunities’ Youth Emergency Services Program is offering community members the opportunity to change the future of a young person’s life by becoming a volunteer host home.

OCO’s YES! Program, which offers a variety of services to runaway and homeless youth, is currently recruiting volunteers to become host homes in Oswego County.

Host homes are families that are interested in helping runaway or homeless youth by providing a safe, temporary place to stay while YES! staff members work with the youth to achieve a more permanent living situation.

Prevention and Early Intervention Program manager, Kathleen Knopp said that the YES! Program is accepting applications from Oswego County families who would like to volunteer to become a host home.

“We are expanding our Rural Host Home Project and looking for host homes of any style, from parents and grandparents to non-parents, from single households to large households. All you need is the availability of an extra bed, a private space for a youth, and a big heart,” said Knopp.

Knopp explained that each host home is certified through the NYS Office of Children & Family Services with each family receiving a thorough orientation and monthly training.

“We provide our host families with an understanding of what youth development is and what our philosophy is towards helping youth. It is important that host families offer a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere,” she said.

Host homes also enjoy the flexibility of choosing their own schedules depending on how often they want to provide shelter for a runaway or homeless youth.

They can also make other decisions such as specifying the age or gender of the youth they wish to help.

An in-depth interview and screening process with both the host home volunteer and the youth in crisis insures that there will be a successful match between the youth and the host family.

“Our host families have appropriate expectations of the youth coming into their home. We make sure that the youth understands what those expectations are and that they are willing to abide by them,” added Knopp.

Those who currently serve as host families have found it to be a very rewarding experience and are happy to be helping a young person in need.

One volunteer has found it to be a learning experience for their family as well.

“Being a host home gives me and my family a chance to give back to the community. We do this as a family and have hosted about 25 youth. These are kids that are in crisis. They are scared and confused; we give them a safe place to stay, a warm bed and a hot meal. We have had some kids stay with us that had not had those basic things in several weeks. My two sons and I hear some amazing stories from these kids, and probably get more from them staying with us then they get from us. It is an education that one does not learn in a book. Some youth only stay for a night. Others stay for a couple of weeks. The youth are well screened and the support I get as a host home from the OCO staff is outstanding. We have never had a problem with any teen that has come to stay with us.  These youth want to be here and understand they are a guest, I would encourage anyone that had thought about being a host home to do it,” they said.

“We truly appreciate the kindness and concern shown by our host homes,” added Knopp. “They do this out of the goodness of their heart knowing that spending just one night in a host home, rather than on the street, can help a young person change their entire future.”

For more information on becoming a Rural Host Home or the OCO’s YES! Program, contact Knopp at 342-7532.

OCO is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966.

It touches the lives of more than 20,000 people annually.

OCO is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member agency.

For more information, visit www.oco.org