VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A nonprofit organization that assists thousands of at-risk youth in our region each year now needs assistance of its own.
“We got some devastating news a few days into the month,” said Jennifer Sieracki, Executive Director of Seton Youth Shelters. “We need a hero.”
The organization discovered it did not receive a competitive $200,000 federal grant this year. The money had accounted for two-thirds of its “Street Outreach Program” (SOP).
Through SOP, counselors travel all across Hampton Roads in vans, providing critical care and assistance to homeless and at-risk youth.
Sieracki said it’s the only organization of its kind in the area, and there’s a great need for its services.
“Thousands of kids run away in Virginia Beach alone each year. There are many youths on the street contemplating running away in situations that are high-risk and this is what we do… SOP is there with two counselors and vans covering 900 square miles… helping youth as a lifeline to either get them to a safe place or intervene before they may find themselves on the street.”
“It’s so critical,” added Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Board President. “Once these kids are out on the street, they’re vulnerable to be taken advantage of by a variety of folks.”
Wilkinson said that SOP reaches between 10,000 to 12,000 youth in our area each year. Now, they may only be able to help half that amount, or less.
“Already, we’ve let several staff go,” he said.
The news is troubling to Grey Anderson, who was assisted through SOP a couple of years ago.
“I was at risk to be homeless,” he said. “My life could have turned out very differently, could have been another statistic.”
But then Seton intervened and helped him get back on his feet. Today, he is a thriving student at Old Dominion University.
“They really changed my life for the better.”
He and the organization’s officials hope to collect the lost funds via private donors.
“Grey is a tremendous success story, a testament to what we can do at Seton,” Sieracki said. “We want to be able to continue to help youth like Grey be successful, and we cannot do that without support.”
Seton Youth Shelters is a licensed Safe Place Agency. They provide shelter for boys and girls, and mentoring for children whose parents are incarcerated.