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Alternatives for Girls
Detroit, MI 48216
Web site: www.alternativesforgirls.org
How it Began — No Place to Call Home
Amy helped start Alternatives for Girls (AFG) which provides shelter to homeless young women 16 to 20 years old — young women who are too old for the foster care system and too young for adult shelters. Amy says, "We saw teenage girls and young women who were prostituting on the streets, sleeping in cars... and nobody knew of a place for them to turn. We were determined to reach these girls and to help them find their way."
One AFG resident, who had been homeless on and off for the past four years and is pregnant, says, "When I came here, it was a big relief. All I had was the clothes on my back and they gave me food to eat. If I had been on the streets a few more days, I believe I would have lost this baby... If it wasn't for Alternatives for Girls, I'd be sleeping in a park today."
A Safe Alternative to Life on the Streets
"There's a myth that homeless girls and young women have left home because they find the streets glamorous or because they didn't like curfews," says Amy. "The reality is that they are generally escaping serious abuse and neglect. Our message to them is that life does not have to be full of uncertainty, crisis and pain... they are deserving of a safe home."
The Transition to Independent Living Program helps the young women find jobs to support themselves and apartments to live in. AFG works with the women for up to a year and a half so they can sustain long-term independent living.
Protecting the Future
Amy says 80 percent of the households in her neighborhood are headed by adults who never graduated from high school. Girls in these households are at high risk of dropping out of school, so AFG started the Prevention Program for girls as young as five years old. The program works to boost young girls' self -esteem, and keep them in school.
A unique aspect of The Prevention Program is that it uses exercise to help girls feel good about themselves. "We offer dance classes so that they can be comfortable with their bodies," says Amy. AFG also offers self-defense courses so the girls learn the importance of being in control of their own bodies.
In the last two years, 100 percent of the girls who have grown up in the Prevention Program have enrolled in college. One mother of six daughters who have participated in the Prevention Program says, "My oldest is 19 and is in her second year at the University of Montana. A lot of girls in my neighborhood end up being pregnant by the time they are 16. I didn't want this type of life for my daughters. This program has taught all my daughters to be strong women who care for others and to give back to the community."
Breaking New Ground
Since receiving Oprah's Angel Network Use Your Life Award, Alternatives for Girls (AFG) has been raising funds for a new facility that will accommodate more homeless teenage girls in the Detroit area. With an increase in crisis shelter capacity, AFG will be able to accommodate 25-30 additional girls each month. AFG estimates the new facility will be completed in November 2002.