Nothing sounds as positive as the word “yes.” Unless you’re talking to families at Fort Bend Family Promise in Missouri City, TX, where “YEP!” is an even more affirmative word. The Affiliate’s Youth Empowerment Planning program, better known as YEP!, strives to minimize the impact of homelessness on kids.
“YEP! is the base of our overall program,” explains Etta Vincent, the Affiliate’s associate director. “We want to ensure as little disruption as possible for children whose families are facing homelessness.”
Started in 2011 and named by youth in the program at that time, YEP! is an everyday component of each family’s case management. Need to register for school transportation? YEP! Healthcare guidance for kids? YEP! Academic support? YEP! Haircuts, new clothing, extracurricular activities, childcare, celebrations…you name it, if it has to do with kids, YEP! has it covered.
Take bedtime. Through YEP! and its “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” initiative, younger children entering the program receive a “Cuddly Kit” – a blanket, stuffed animal, and storybook, as well as pajamas donated through a partnership with Carter’s children’s clothing brand.
“We do a big celebration for high school graduations, too,” says Vincent, describing a mini ceremony where students receive an engraved plaque and a monetary gift.
The Affiliate’s property features “YEP! Land,” a garden and outdoor play space at the day center that includes a pond and bridge, play equipment, and a basketball court.
In fact, YEP!’s Ankle Breakers youth basketball team, coached by the Affiliate’s executive director and comprised of kids ages 13-17 from Family Promise families and the Affiliate’s support community, is a popular part of the program. Boys’ and girls’ teams compete annually in the South Texas Championship youth basketball league. In 2019, they won the championship and were recognized at the San Antonio Spurs’ opening game.
It sounds like fun and games, but YEP! has a serious mission.
Says Vincent, “Lots of times, when families come to us, their kids aren’t able to participate in extracurricular activities, or they don’t know how to get involved. We don’t want families experiencing homelessness to have to choose between paying rent and utilities or buying football equipment and paying club fees. Kids shouldn’t be deprived of those kinds of activities.”
“Our focus is on the youth,” she adds. “We want to lift them up and empower them, let them know everything will be ok.”
One unexpected benefit of Fort Bend Family Promise’s YEP! program has been an increased awareness of the crisis of family homelessness. When COVID curtailed team sports in 2020, YEP! Ankle Breakers team members decided to research the impact of the pandemic on homeless and housed youth in their community to help assess what types of support are needed for young people whose families were battling homelessness. They were surprised to learn that youth in stable housing situations reported feeling more depressed than those at Family Promise. One theory they developed was that the youth at Family Promise had already experienced significant life changes, possibly increasing their resilience to stress. The group is now looking to publish a paper on this research. Learn more about this project here.