A collaboration between two Ypsilanti-based nonprofits, Our House
, has created a cozy retreat for teenagers about to transition out of foster care.
Our House, a nonprofit focused on helping young people aging out of the foster care system
, was established in 2012. Due to the great need for support for older teenagers ages 16-19 who are on the cusp of aging out of the system, Our House recently leased a large residence in Ypsilanti for its MOSAIC program. It's the only state-licensed independent living residence and program for foster care youth ages 16-19. A staff member lives on site, and staff are present 16 hours a day to mentor clients and help them build life skills from cooking and laundry to paying bills.
"This house will be primarily for minors who are still in foster care and have been identified as ready to learn independent living skills," says Our House Executive Director Natasha Doan-Motsinger. "They're not on a path to adoption and we know they're aging out, and they might benefit from independent living services."
Our House also manages the Launch Pad supportive housing project in Ypsilanti, primarily serving youth ages 19-25. Doan-Motsinger says the state grant that funds the MOSAIC program will provide a financial buffer and boost all of Our House's programming at both locations to clients of all ages 14-25. She says that, to her knowledge, there's no similar program anywhere in Michigan that serves former foster children after age 21.
Anna DiGiovanni outside Our House's new Mosaic residence.
The new three-story MOSAIC residence was an old sorority house near Eastern Michigan University's campus that needed to be repainted and refurbished. Anna DiGiovanni was recently hired to be the live-in program manager for the MOSAIC residence. Her mother, Laura Roth, is a volunteer with HouseN2Home, a local nonprofit that helps families and individuals transitioning out of homelessness
by furnishing their new apartments. When Roth found out about the new MOSAIC residence, she suggested to the HouseN2Home team that they work their magic on the house.
"We probably would not have had this project come to our attention if it had not been for Laura," says Ruth Ann Logue, a founding volunteer with HouseN2Home. "She did a fantastic job of rallying a lot of people to the cause."
Logue says the MOSAIC project was different from HouseN2Home's usual focus on helping individuals and families coming out of homeless shelters.
"But it was right in line with our mission to turn a house into a warm, safe, and inviting home, and I think that's what we've done with Our House," Logue says.
Laura Roth, Ruth Ann Logue, Liz Gadway, and Ginger Raymond of HouseN2Home at Our House's new MOSAIC residence.
Typically, a HouseN2Home project is headed by a pair of team leaders who pick the furnishings and coordinate the move-in day. Eight to 12 volunteers descend on the apartment and furnish it completely, typically in four to five hours or less. Furnishing a three-story house was a much bigger challenge, though, Roth says.
"Normally, our leaders clean everything on the day of the move, and move in and set up with a team of volunteers, but for this one, it was too big for that," Roth says. A team moved all the furniture into the home one day, and the next day, nearly two dozen volunteers came to set up all 11 bedrooms for clients as well as a bedroom and office for DiGiovanni.
"They went above and beyond," says Motsinger. "Every person has a desk, and they stocked the desk with school supplies. Everyone has towels, a sheet set, and things they can personalize their rooms with."
Our House staff said they wanted to make sure the decorations, books, and other items in the house would appeal to a diverse range of users, from paintings to books.
A bedroom in Our House's new MOSAIC residence furnished by HouseN2Home.
"We wanted it to be welcoming for everybody, and they really came through," Doan-Motsinger says.
In addition to furnishings, HouseN2Home decided to stock the house with a library of books featuring diverse protagonists, with a focus on racial diversity and LGBTQ characters. Roth, DiGiovanni, and other Our House staff came up with a wishlist of 107 titles. Less than 24 hours after Logue made a request for book donations on her Facebook page, she had over 100 books. A second wave of books came in, and the MOSAIC house now has between 150 and 200 books, all with diverse characters.
Logue says gaining nonprofit status in April has created many opportunities for HouseN2Home, including the opportunity to get grant funding. But with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions being lifted, many of the organization's volunteers wanted to travel, and she says the organization struggled this summer.
"For instance, in July, we had 44 requests for help from caseworkers, and we were only able to do around 26," Logue says. "We always need people to come and help. It was a hard summer, but we're hoping that, with kids back in school, we'll be getting more volunteers."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.