Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report
Victoria Robles, now 19, was homeless last year. She spent her nights sleeping, or trying to sleep, on the Hays Street Bridge. She wore the same outfit for a week.
“Sometimes when you fall, you fly,” said Robles who has had two children. “So sometimes you’re at the bottom and sometimes you’re not. I was homeless before I came here … now I have a bed and I have a shower. You don’t realize how much you want these things when you don’t have them.”
Robles found Roy Maas Youth Alternatives, a local nonprofit that helps and houses youth who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. Through its TurningPoint Independent Living Program, which prepares homeless young adults to be independent citizens through education, job, and life skills, Robles feels she’s finally on the right track. In two weeks, Robles will be graduating from SAISD’s Pickett Academy and go on to pursue cake decorating classes.
On Tuesday, Roy Maas celebrated the grand opening of the Mike Koiner House, a transitional home which will house young people between the ages of 18 and 21 who have aged out of foster care or grew up in abusive and/or neglectful homes. It’s homes like these that give young adults like Robles a chance.
“There are around 6,000 kids living in Foster Care in Bexar County and 40,000 in Texas,” said Roy Maas Youth Alternatives Director of Community and Donor Relations Renee Garvens.
There are hundreds of young adults just like Robles who age out of the foster care system at age 18 and end up homeless. Robles is one of the lucky ones. Without proper guidance after a life spent moving around from foster parent to foster parent, most young people leaving the foster care system are ill-prepared to adjust to life on their own.
The Koiner House is the the fifth house in the Roy Maas Youth Alternatives’ TurningPoint program. The shelter will help kids learn life skills like cooking, budgeting, and keeping a job while also getting therapy. Local philanthropists Harvey Najim of the Najim Family Foundation donated $100,000 and Bill Greehey of the Greehey Family Foundation donated $50,000 toward the purchase and renovation of the new home.
“This program is really important and not only Roy Maas,” Najim said. “I’m chairman of the board this year of United Way and we have 1.6 million people in San Antonio – 26% of those people require social services. That’s almost 400,000 people and a certain percentage of those come to Roy Maas. This is a great organization and I’m glad to support it.”
The First Chance Foundation donated $12,947 to furnish the bedrooms of the Koiner House and Texas Leather Interiors donated $80,000 worth of furniture for the new home and to refurbish the four other TurningPoint homes.
Members of the China Grove Lions Club and other volunteers donated thousands of dollars in new and gently used furniture, decorations, bedding, and kitchen supplies, RMYA officials said. The home also will feature a learning lab with computers donated by the Kidstartup Foundation and a library put together by volunteer Any Minton.
The Koiner House is named after Mike Koiner, a clinician who worked with Roy Maas for 25 years and left a lasting impression on many young adults in the TurningPoint program. Koiner passed away at age 52 in January 2016 from a heart condition.
“It was heartbreaking to lose Mike, because he was just a great therapist,” said 21-year-old Damon Anthony, who said Koiner helped him through several rough years in high school. “He was one of a kind and the one that everybody wanted to talk to … He would put frowns upside down and make them into smiles, and he was very funny.”
Six individuals will live in the Koiner House, increasing the number of young people served by TurningPoint to 26. Since 1976, RMYA programs have served over 80,000 abused, neglected, and high-risk youth through residential and counseling services.
“We’ll start phasing them in and we already have a waiting list,” Garvens said. “This is a place where we’ll put the kids when they’ve accomplished all their goals, so they’ve got their job, they’re getting their education settled or maybe their taking their GED, and they are following the rules.”
Many people in the 18-21 age range feel overwhelmed once they leave the foster-care system, Garvens added, because they know what they want but they don’t know how to get there. This is where TurningPoint steps in and helps them create a road map to achieve those goals.
“The program is around 18 months and that’s the goal,” Garvens said. “Then they’ll have their own apartment, a decent job, a bank account, and their driver’s license. A lot of the kids come here with no ID or birth certificate or social security card … no wonder they get shoved out of the system.”
Miranda Vasquez, 19, told the Rivard Report during the tour of the Koiner House that her new blue room makes her feel comfortable and at ease.
“I have my own bathroom here, it has two sinks, a walk in closet, and the room has soothing colors,” Vasquez said. She currently has a full-time job working at a Corner Store and said she is saving up money to pursue a degree in Culinary Arts.
“I’ve made a dramatic change being here – I really have,” Vasquez said. “I remember before I came here I acted like a little kid. I thought I knew everything, but once I came here I learned a lot. I have a full time job now at the Corner Store and I’m looking at leaving in July and getting my own place.
“I want anyone who’s going to come into the program to know that change is possible and you just have to have motivation in yourself to change.”
To learn more about the Roy Maas Youth Alternatives’ programs and services, click here.