Click to watch video of this story

Together, We Can

Building a strong community that takes care of everyone who lives here depends on your generous support.

Once-Homeless Youth Gives Back to Others Experiencing Homelessness

United Way's Youth in Transition Program Helps Young Adults Find Stable Housing

JaQuan Riley believes that everything happens for a reason, even if that means losing your home.

Growing up, JaQuan lived in an apartment with his mother and three siblings in St. Matthews. His mother worked hard to provide for them, though taking care of four children on a low income was difficult. At 15 years old, JaQuan moved to Columbia to live with his father where he attended Eau Claire High School. During his time in school, he and his girlfriend had two children and his grandmother became ill. Needless to say, JaQuan had a lot on his plate.

“I was working and going to school, and I had to take care of my grandmother. Her health had declined, so taking care of her, trying to work, trying to balance my life, it became too much,” he said. “That’s when me and my dad’s relationship kind of took a turn for the worse.”

JaQuan moved into his grandmother’s home to help take care of her and cut ties with his father.

“At that point, her health had declined to where she was in a mobility chair. I had to cook, I had to clean, I had to take her to her doctors appointments, and in that time I had two kids. So, trying to balance all of that, I became stressed. I was so, so stressed.”

One day, JaQuan and his grandmother were evicted from their home. His grandmother went to live with his father, meanwhile his two children and their mother went to live with her stepmother. In attempts to find somewhere to stay, he went back to his mother’s home in St. Matthews, but she told him he couldn’t stay with her.

JaQuan was on his own, couch surfing between friends and families’ houses, staying in hotels or cars, and even on the street. A teacher from his high school reached out to him in the summer to help mentor him through this time. His mentor’s husband is a case manager at Transitions Homeless Center, a United Way Community Impact Partner that provides housing and resources for individuals experiencing homelessness. He was able to set JaQuan up with a bed and any services he needed through Transitions and United Way’s youth homelessness initiative.

The youth program is designed to connect 18-24-year-olds with youth-specific case management, programs, and classes, including higher education and job training programs. This program helps sets youth experiencing homelessness up for success in getting a new job, securing permanent housing, and completing a degree to change their lives and open many doors for opportunities.

“One part of United Way’s Youth Plan makes sure our youth have the experience of different professional development opportunities that they may not have otherwise,” said Jeff Armstrong, United Way of the Midlands Affordable Housing Coordinator.

The Youth in Transition Initiative calls for the alignment of programs and services for youth experiencing homelessness to focus on four core outcomes: stable housing, permanent connections, education, and employment and well-being. The services provided at Transitions align with these outcomes and have helped youth like JaQuan jumpstart their future.

JaQuan was invited to participate in President Obama Foundation’s Community Leaderships Corps Program here in Columbia, and he has also worked in partnership with United Way’s Youth Advisory Board to help youth experiencing homelessness find job opportunities and increase their skills to help them become financially stable.

"They also have a future and they also have dreams,” JaQuan said, “and I want to help them achieve them.”

He also spends a lot of time in church and believes that his faith in God, along with the many services and compassionate staff at Transitions, has helped him move past his struggles and into a brighter future.

Be In the Know

Sign up for our emails and stay informed about how we work with partners and supporters like you to strengthen our community.