Member Spotlight: Heartstrings Youth Village


Heartstrings Youth Village, one of TNOYS’ newest member organizations, was recently started by former school social worker Ritasha Taylor, who saw that there weren’t enough resources available in her East Fort Bend County community to support youth experiencing housing instability. Until the new organization can build a brick-and-mortar shelter, its goal is to address youth homelessness by supporting the networks that youth create for themselves. It’s an excellent example of how engaging youth and valuing their voice and contributions can help create more effective services for them.

Research has shown that youth experience homelessness differently than their adult counterparts — often, by “couch surfing” with friends or family to avoid sleeping on the street. Heartstrings Youth Village tailors its approach to these young people’s unique situations by supporting the families that are providing them with safe shelter during periods of homelessness.

“Youth are resilient — they’re networking and finding places to go within their own social circle. So if a family is taking in a youth intermittently, our goal is to support that family for opening up their home to that youth and helping the youth find long-term stability,” Taylor explained.

Helping Heartstrings Youth Village provide that support is a $50,000 capacity-building grant awarded by TNOYS’ Safety Nets for Students and Families project, which aims to support families along Texas’ Gulf Coast who are continuing to experience housing instability in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Half of the grant will be used for stipends of up to $400 for host families that have taken in a youth. The stipends are part of a comprehensive approach that includes case management and linking to therapeutic services in addition to financial services. The goal is to support 60 youth and host pairs over the next year. The additional grant funding will assist the organization with building capacity, legal consultation and consultation from other organizations who are implementing their own host home models.

Taylor echoes an observation shared by many who work in the social services field along the Texas Gulf Coast — that the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey aren’t always obvious but are there below the surface impacting the community. In the case of youth experiencing housing instability, it just means their support network has become more fragile. “Families are stressed out, and they’re more stressed out since Hurricane Harvey,” she said. “With the compound stressors of being displaced or being out of work because of the storm, it can be harder for families to support the youth who are experiencing homelessness because they are still trying to get back on their feet.”

With help from the Safety Nets project, Heartstrings Youth Village can help strengthen the network of support for youth in East Fort Bend County, and ultimately, grow its own capacity to be a source of support in the future. TNOYS is excited to have this innovative organization as one of the newest members in our network.

Click here to learn about the 11 other projects and organizations that received capacity-building grants from Safety Nets for Students and Families. Click here to learn about the many other excellent organizations from across the state that make up TNOYS’ membership.


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