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Graduate Students Advocate for Local Homeless and At-risk Youth

Graduate students in the clinical mental health counseling program recently started projects to advocate for at-risk groups as a part of their Professional Issues for Counselors course.

One group of first-year graduate students, Mariah Carey, Gina Romano, Brianna Stangline and Aira Mae Walsh, advocated for the NEPA Youth Shelter, a local nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter and services to homeless or at-risk teens. Services include food, clothing, shelter and educational support. With a strong focus on social justice and advocacy, the shelter also acts as a safe haven for teens in the LGBTQ+ community. With the events of COVID19, the importance of community support and outreach are needed perhaps now more than ever. 

"I was definitely frustrated at first," said Romano, one of the students organizing the project, "mainly because I didn't know how we could help with COVID-19 blocking so many avenues we tried to take. But I was also hopeful to target this population because we should still be concerned with how teens are surviving the pandemic."

The group worked closely with the executive director for the shelter, Maureen Maher-Gray, and decided that fundraising would be the best option to support the services that the shelter offers in lieu of physical donations such as backpacks and notebooks. 

"Our attendance is way down because of COVID, which means we are not serving many kids right now. We also have limited storage," said Maher-Gray.  

In Pennsylvania, there are an estimated 30,624 homeless public-school students, according to a 2018 report by the National Center for Homeless Education. This is a 30 percent increase since a similar report done in 2016. 

"People often associate homelessness with living in the street," said Stangline. "However, homelessness can also mean not having a stable or consistent home. Many of the homeless teens that the shelter services bounce from relatives or friends' houses and may not know where their next meal is coming from."

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