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Caring for Kids
With community partnerships, Crossroads Programs provides safe housing, supportive services to youth in need

by Kristen Dowd

When children and adolescents experience trauma or hardships that prohibit them from living at home, they need somewhere to go that will provide a safe, secure and supportive environment.

They need a new, temporary home – whether for a little while or for an extended stay – that will give them an opportunity to grow and thrive.

These young people need Crossroads Programs.

The nonprofit has been supporting and empowering youth in need since its founding in 1978. With administrative offices based in Willingboro, Crossroads Programs has upwards of a dozen locations in Burlington, Camden and Mercer counties, serving approximately 250 young people aged 5 to 21 each year.

“We’re always growing to meet the needs of the community,” Jill Troutman says. “In New Jersey, we have a lot of kids who are placed in the system… So they come to us. We’re there to support them and help them to become the best person that they can be.”

Troutman serves as the vice president of advancement, marketing and communications for Crossroads Programs. As such, she sees the impact a supportive community has on the organization – and the foster care community as a whole – every day.

“We can’t do it without the community. We’re so much better when we all work together and we come together,” she says.

Crossroads Programs offers a variety of programming and housing to the young people who come into its care. The staff and volunteers are ready to assist in crisis intervention and therapeutic services of many types, including for youth who have special learning needs. There are both group and individual foster homes, as well as the Capable Adolescent Mothers program, which offers support and housing to teenage mothers and their babies. Transitional living homes help older youth learn the skills of independent living.

“Our programs meet a variety of needs,” Troutman affirms.

Finding treatment home volunteers
As the Crossroads Programs treatment home coordinator, Tashicka Hayes is in charge of finding qualified adults who want to get licensed as a parent and provide a treatment home to the nonprofit’s youth. Just like being an independent foster parent, the process goes through the state; however, when partnering with Crossroads, it’s a more streamlined, simpler process.

“We’re always looking for more,” Hayes says.

Understandably, a lot of children coming into these homes have challenging behaviors – most often not stemming from who they are, but instead from their previous environment. Being a treatment parent is a chance to help these children change those behaviors and change themselves.

“It takes a special type of person to be able to look at what the real problem is and how they can really help them,” Hayes says.

Most of the youth coming into Crossroads Programs have experienced some form of tragedy, according to Hayes, and being able to come to a home with a parent who cares can make a world of difference.

And it’s rewarding for the parents, too.

“You’re able to help them. You get to see them grow,” she says. “You get to really sow into their lives and, most of the time, it’s for a lifetime.”

Other ways to help
While Troutman calls finding treatment parents the “biggest need” at Crossroads Programs, there are also a number of other ways community members can support the nonprofit and its children.

In addition to monetary donations, contributing toiletry items – hypoallergenic body wash, hair products for various textures, deodorants and body sprays – are always needed and appreciated. Socks, Troutman specifies, are a big need, too.

“One of the greatest things people can do is give us a $25 gift card. Kids love it, and they need to know how to manage [their] money,” Troutman says. These can be gift cards to places such as Walmart or Target, but gift cards for gas are equally great for the kids in the program who obtain their driver’s license.

Packages of tickets for families are a huge need as well. This can be five or six tickets to the movie theater, a sporting event, an amusement park, a museum or concert. Gift certificates for fun family experiences – a paint-your-own-pottery spot, ice cream parlor, miniature golf or roller skating – is another welcomed idea.

Art supplies are also in high demand, including sidewalk chalk, watercolor paints, tie-dye kits, and pads of paper along with drawing and coloring items.

Troutman says Crossroads Programs is fortunate to have some wonderful community partners, and they are appreciative of everyone who reaches out to support the youth coming through their doors. It means so much to the staff – but more importantly, it means so much to the kids.

“These kids need to know that people care,” Troutman says, “and it takes a community to do that.”

Crossroads Programs
(609) 880-0210

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 8.
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