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With wide smiles, Isaac and Chanel counted the months, weeks and days until their high school graduations — excited about opportunities the future would bring.
They talked of a national competition, a first car, cosmetology and community college.
But a year ago, their stories were quite different.
Both were homeless teens living without any semblance of normalcy. And both are part of an estimated 400 homeless high school students living in Denton County, according to Journey to Dream Executive Director Kim Hinkle.
“It’s hard on the streets,” Chanel said as she sat in Kyle’s Place, Journey to Dream’s youth home. “It’s all about survival.”
Kyle’s Place opened last year in Lewisville, the first transitional living facility for teens in high school ages 16 to 20 in Denton County.
Isaac and Chanel are the latest teens to find their second chances.
Isaac hopped out of his silver Nissan Altima, ready to talk about his summer trip to Seattle for the Special Olympics’ national competition.
An accomplished athlete, the 19-year-old competed in basketball, football and softball statewide. His softball team won the chance to travel to Washington.
The straight-A student had turned the corner from a time when he didn’t have a support system.
“I was moving from place to place,” Isaac said. He lived in other facilities and was wary about Kyle’s Place. The difference was in how he was treated. “They do help a lot,” he said.
Six months after moving in, Isaac is saving money for an apartment and plans to become a veterinarian.
What advice would he give to a teen in trouble?
“Come to Kyle’s Place. Come meet Izell.”
As a master barber in Wisconsin, Izell Bennett used to listen to his clients and offer advice while he trimmed hair.
The supportive environment where people felt free to be themselves in the barbershop was the same one he wanted to re-create as the supervisor at Kyle’s Place.
“I have a natural knack for connecting with people,” said Izell, who changed careers to pursue social services. He has played several roles — a tutor at Big Brother Big Sister and a family advocate for an elementary school. He also has experience with juvenile offenders in a transitional living program in Wisconsin.
His ability to work with teens comes from thoughtful consideration.
“I step into their box,” he said.
The nonjudgmental approach works.
“My job is to help them – to find their purpose, whatever that looks like.”
“This place was my last resort,” said Chanel, who recently celebrated her 19th birthday.
Chanel arrived at Kyle’s Place without identification after it had been stolen, which made it difficult to enroll in school or find a job. Helping her replace it was the first issue Kyle’s Place committed to resolve.
Chanel knows firsthand how difficult life on the streets can be for a teenager.
“Kids need to know about this place,” she said.
Today, Chanel is seven credits away from a coveted document that will set her on a path to community college and cosmetology.
“I see nothing but good for the future,” she said.
“I will get a high school diploma. I will get a job. I will be a success.”
Kyle’s Place Up Close
A menu on the refrigerator outlines staff and student meal preferences for the week: Pork chops, mac-n-cheese and broccoli one evening, loaded cheese fries and green beans another.
On Monday nights, Love Thy Neighbor in Lewisville provides a meal. In turn, students volunteer at the nonprofit’s kitchen or clothing areas.
Designed with the comforts of home, the youth center invites togetherness: A living room features a game area, teens gather to cook in the kitchen and a long wooden table fills the dining room. Each of 14 beds is individualized to give every teen their own space.
Outside, teens enjoy the occasional grilled meal, and sitting areas are dotted around the yard for solitary time.
Invited guests teach life-skills training, and each student learns to be independent and self-sustaining.
The building has served Lewisville residents under three nonprofit organizations. “We are honored to continue the legacy,” said Izell.
Journey to Dream
Since 2005, Journey to Dream has helped teens overcome adversity. Working with Lewisville ISD, the nonprofit offers in-school support groups and backpacks filled with necessities. The organization’s curriculum-based program addresses substance abuse, depression, bullying, homelessness and more.
Learn more about the CoServ Charitable Foundation.