Ashley Superczynski’s parents adopted a young boy she saw as her growing brother, but when his parents separated he was placed back into the foster care system.
Superczynski lost contact with him and he eventually grew old without foster care. The bits of news she received from her parents over the years indicated that he was not in a stable place or not doing well in life.
“I just think it’s a shame the system isn’t better designed to support children,” Superczynski told the News Journal.
So Superczyski is now part of a group of young adults working to help troubled youth in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties gain support and better outcomes in life.
The Northwest Florida Youth Action Board is a subcommittee of Open Doors Northwest Florida dedicated to breaking cycles of youth homelessness through support, resources, and mentorship.
The subcommittee was created in May and has a board of 18-24 year olds who have been nominated to join and who are committed to making the community they live in a better place.
According to Opening Doors, 823 homeless youth used the agency’s resources between 2020 and 2021. Of these, 457, or 55.5%, are female and 519, or 63%, are black. During this period, there were 117 unaccompanied young people but only 20 beds available.
Opening Doors wanted to provide a safe space for homeless, unaccompanied, parenting and pregnant youth of all ages and felt it was important to give a voice to a sub-population that many are not exposed to, officials said. organization officials.
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“Opening Doors, with us putting our ears to the ground, we hear about the initiatives (from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) or the Department of Children and Families, and then we look around us in our community and see that ‘there is a problem with youth homelessness,” said Martika Baker, grants administrator for Opening Doors Northwest Florida. “It’s specifically with runaway youth and unaccompanied youth, and so we wanted to create a Youth Action Council to essentially make the voices of young people heard – dedicated young people who would be able to lead and bring their lived experience to the table.”
The council will help identify the needs of the homeless youth community and create projects and programs to meet them, provide resources and partner with key community stakeholders to manage these programs. Some ideas include workshops on finances, building credit, job interview techniques, resume writing and more.
Young leaders receive a stipend for their work, gain professional experience, and become better leaders under the guidance of Opening Doors.
is one of those board members who wanted to make a difference in the community. A student of social work at the University of West Florida, she has always had a passion for advocating for others. When she got an internship at Opening Doors and had the opportunity to work on the Youth Action Board, she took advantage of it.
At school she was studying grief and loss social work because growing up she saw her best friend die and her grandfather die, and the social workers helped her and her family and his friends, to overcome these losses. Seeing the power social workers had in lifting people up at their worst, it became something she wanted to do herself.
As a member of the Youth Action Board, Superczynski learns about the life experiences of different people.
“I’ve heard people tell their stories and talk about the things that matter most to them. And it’s like I don’t even think about those things on a daily basis because I’m privileged, and so it really opens your eyes to things you don’t even think about,” he said. “Having the right kind of clothes every day, knowing where your next meal is coming from, or knowing you have running water at home when you get there.”
His sentiments are echoed by Youth Action Board chair Jordyn Palmer, who enjoys helping young people in the community. He has volunteered for other organizations such as Omega Lamplighters and the Southern Youth Sports Association, spoken at youth summits on gun violence and mental health, and been someone other youth in the community admired.
He is a firm believer in the YAB’s vision statement: “YAB envisions a community where all young people have a safe home with endless opportunities to reach their full potential.
Palmer added that “just because you live in the house doesn’t mean it’s a house” because a house offers mentorship, it has people who help you through the toughest times in life and gives a person a place where their voice counts. .
Palmer said that at first many people on the council would never speak and would keep to themselves. Now they have the confidence to pick up a microphone and speak to a crowd about their experience of abuse, homelessness, abandonment or sexual assault.
“These young people who stand up and speak, it opens doors for them, people know them. And they probably never felt like people would say their name, or they probably felt like they would never be on stage and holding a mic,” Palmer said. “So I think it gives a sense of empowerment and it makes you feel good that, ‘I can do this, I really have this.’ I say if you can talk to people, you really can do anything. It will take you far in life because expressing what you need to say is so important.
The Youth Action Board of Northwest Florida is seeking to fill three board positions. If you would like to be a part of it or want more information on how to support YAB, visit their website at yabnwfl.com.