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Helping Youth Build a Brighter Future

Marcos’ (not his real name) childhood was surrounded with drugs, violence, and gangs. He and his siblings were removed from their families and placed in foster care. At the age of 13, the foster parents with whom Marcos was living were not able to cope with his emotional and behavioral challenges and as a result, he came to live at Southern Thirty Adolescent Center (STAC).

“I remember Marcos as a sweet, quiet and shy youth when he arrived,” shared STAC Supervisor Brittiney Higgins. “He had suffered a lot of trauma from his childhood and needed a stable, safe environment. That’s what STAC provided him.”

STAC is Lutheran Child and Family Services’ short-term emergency-shelter facility located in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. STAC serves youth between the ages of 11 – 18. The boys reside at STAC 24-hours-a-day, while the girls participate in the program from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and then return to foster homes. All of the children come with challenges as a result of trauma.

The goal of STAC is to provide an environment that is rapport building, non-judgmental and inclusive to everyone. STAC focuses on giving youth the tools they need to express themselves in positive ways and the life skills necessary as they transition to the next phase of their lives. “We want to teach them something positive that they can take with them when they leave.”

While at STAC, staff assess the youths’ strengths and long-term needs and create individual plans. The youth receive therapeutic services to help develop strategies and skills that will help them in the future.

During the Coronavirus quarantine, youth at STAC are struggling. “They’re scared because they don’t really understand what is happening. They’re also very frustrated that they haven’t been able to get out into the community for recreation, and they’ve missed being able to have face-to-face visits with their families.”

The dedicated staff at STAC are going above and beyond in order to help all the youth process the situation and release their frustrations is a constructive manner. “We try to get creative with activities that we can do on campus with the youth. We’re also setting up additional video and phone calls with family members so they can still stay connected.”

When Marcos resided at STAC, he participated in the on-site counseling offered by STAC’s therapist, as well as specialized counseling off-site. He also benefited from the consistent school structure provided at STAC. It showed him he could excel in school if he focused and worked hard.

During his time at STAC, Marcos also developed close relationships with many of the staff. “Marcos needed somewhere he felt safe. He was able to let his guard down and began to trust us.”

After spending five months at STAC, Marcos went to live with a foster family in the Chicago area where he received the support that helped him continue the  progress he’d made at STAC.

Today, Marcos is 17 and will graduate from high school early. After that, he plans to further his education and pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.

To this day, Marcos remains in touch with many of the staff at STAC. He calls the shelter regularly to check-in with people and update the staff on his progress, always expressing how grateful he is to all of them for helping him to turn his life around.