Friday, December 22, 2006

M.A.S.H. transition program for emancipated youth

A place for teens who feel they've got no place to go
Ogawa, Jillian, Lexington Herald-Leader, March 8, 2006, pg. B1.

When teenager Jasmine Campbell had problems at home, she didn't turn to friends or family.

Instead, she went to M.A.S.H. Drop-Inn shelter located at 536 and 540 of West Third Street.

She knew she was welcome there, Campbell said.

"I knew I was guaranteed a place to stay and a meal," said Campbell, 15, of Lexington. "At a friend's house, you could wear out your welcome."

The M.A.S.H. (Metro Alternative Shelter House) Drop-Inn is a shelter that helps teens who are homeless or at risk. A homeless teen is considered one who does not have adequate nighttime housing, which includes someone who sleeps at homes of friends instead of parents, said Khristy M. Parks, street outreach and transitional housing program coordinator.

The program serves 400 teens a year, which includes those who stay overnight and some who come in for a couple of hours. Most are from Fayette County.

At-risk teens may be youth struggling at home, foster children who come out of state commitment, or teens referred to the center by a family care advocate.

The shelter, operated by non-profit M.A.S.H. Services of the Bluegrass, is open 24 hours a day, every day. It has 10 beds where teens can stay for three days at a time.

The shelter provides a structured and supervised environment, said Dinah Williams, program manager. She said supervisors at the shelter will call a teen's parents to let them know their child is in the shelter.

"We tell them (the teen) that they can tell us anything in confidence," Williams said. "We do not share it with any of the staff."

Campbell said counselors and other peers showed her how to cope "instead of lashing out with anger."

"A lot of them feel safe and supportive where at home is chaos," Williams said.

The shelter hosts activities including trips to the movies or rollerskating. Guests can also do laundry and have a meal. There are telephones available to call parents.

M.A.S.H. Services of the Bluegrass also has a transition program for youths ages 18-21, catering primarily to teens who were in foster care but decide not to remain in state care when they turn 18. A lot of those youths find themselves with "no money, no job or no plan," Parks said.

A little more than a year ago, Sharese Sloss was getting help through the Salvation Army in Lexington. After enrolling in the transitional housing program about a year ago, she is living in an apartment and speaks about finishing school -- accomplishments made possible through the transitional housing program.

"Getting back on my feet, and just knowing that I can move forward the next day," Sloss said, reflecting on her progress, "I have a better sense of direction."

Now, Sloss and Campbell look forward to helping other homeless teens. Campbell is a program assistant who tutors about three days a week to peers who are staying in the home.

"It's well worth it because I got my life on track," Campbell said about the shelter. "I want to help others do the same."

Where to find them
M.A.S.H. Services of the Bluegrass, Inc. is at 536 and 540 West Third Street in Lexington. Call (859) 254-2501 or (859) 252-3126 or visit


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