The Relatives: Helping Charlotte’s Most Vulnerable Young People

  • Categories:

    Community, Work

  • Date:

    April 22, 2019

The Relatives: Helping Charlotte’s Most Vulnerable Young People

Community Work

The Relatives serves the most vulnerable youth and young adults in Charlotte — young people who are homeless or in a crisis, and many of whom have aged out of public systems such as foster care, juvenile justice and children’s mental health. For nearly half a century, the organization has worked to ensure every child and young adult has the love and support they need to reach safety, stability and, ultimately, independence.

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why Wray Ward is excited to work with The Relatives, our second of four EmpoWWer service-grant recipients for 2019, during Q2. We talked with Executive Director Trish Hobson about The Relatives’ mission, what she loves about her work and how Wray Ward can help her team provide a caring “relative” to thousands of Charlotte area youth in crisis.

If you had 15 seconds to explain what The Relatives does, what would you say?

TH: The Relatives provides the kind of family support a lot of children in our community don’t get. “Children” includes ages 7–24.

“The Relatives” — that’s an interesting name for a nonprofit organization. Can you tell us about the name?

TH: Charlotte’s Dilworth United Methodist Church started The Relatives in the early ’70s. A lot of homeless young people made their way from Freedom Park to the church to ask for help. The church staff started leaving a window or door open so the kids would have a place to stay. Well, eventually they figured out that wasn’t a good long-term solution, so they founded a program in the basement.

When people asked these kids where they were staying, they often said they were staying with relatives because they were too embarrassed to say they were homeless. The name stuck. And today, we really do look at ourselves as extended family. Many kids come to us without any real family. That lack of unconditional support creates a lot of trauma for young people.

We take the name to heart, and we’re committed to providing unconditional love and the second, third and fourth chances most kids get in a stable family.

Why are programs like The Relatives so important for Charlotte and other communities?

TH: If your family and your kids are doing well, you may go through life and never see this population struggling. The truth is that there are thousands of kids in our city living in unsafe, violent, unstable or homeless family situations. Many kids are getting promoted in school without meeting goals. Their families are kicking them out when they’re 18 because they’re lesbian or gay.

The kids (we serve) don’t have the support they need. Like all kids, they make mistakes, but a lack of stable support often means those mistakes turn into roadblocks to their future success. They’re desperate. They think nobody cares about them, and they often don’t know where they’ll sleep from night to night.

Young people without support making bad decisions? I don’t think that’s what anyone wants for Charlotte. Our at-risk youth want to feel like someone has their back, and The Relatives fills that vital role.

That’s especially true for the 18- to 24-year-olds who often slip through the cracks. There are ample resources available for the very young in our community, but as they get closer to 18, it’s easy to say, “Oh, well you’re an adult now.”

But older kids and young adults should not be forgotten, as they need just as much support and investment. Setting them on a path toward independence and self-sufficiency is beneficial to the community as whole. I think of my own kids and how much they relied on me during those years. They had lots of people in their corner, and they still needed support after they turned 18.

What is the best part of your job?

TH: I keep a candy bowl in my office so kids will say hello to me. It’s my opportunity to learn their name and what they’re here for and get to know them in a small amount of time. It’s important to me because I don’t get a lot of one-on-one time with them through the program.

What is the hardest part of your job?

TH: We’ve grown so much so fast that we’ve outgrown our space. That means I often have to make tough decisions in terms of how we grow. For instance, human trafficking and high school dropout rates are rising problems. But I don’t have the space or the staff to fully address them. Instead, my existing staff is addressing the issues. They do a great job, but it isn’t the same as having a dedicated position.

What would you be doing today if you weren’t leading The Relatives?

TH: I would still be in the nonprofit world. When I volunteered with the Junior League of Charlotte, I got to know many nonprofits through my community placements. I fell in love with the nonprofit model and had no doubt I’d turn to it when I was ready to go back to work.

My first job was with the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, where I found I really loved fighting homelessness. I connected with homeless men, probably THE most underserved population. It’s easy to look at them and make up a story that assumes they did it to themselves. They’re such an underdog, and that tears at my heart.

If I wasn’t working for The Relatives today, hopefully I’d be working with another nonprofit to help the underserved. But this is the perfect job. It’s fulfilling. It feels like a gift.

Why is it so important for businesses like Wray Ward to support small nonprofit organizations?

TH: Small nonprofits do the work to make our community a better place, oftentimes with very little resources. I’ve never met anyone who can stretch a dollar like a small nonprofit. Businesses like Wray Ward understand that together we can make Charlotte better. They also understand it’s in their own best interest to make Charlotte better.

What led The Relatives to apply for an EmpoWWer service grant?

TH: We’ve been talking about how to raise our profile. Board members hear people say, “I’ve never heard of The Relatives” or “I’ve seen your sign, but I don’t know what you do” or “I know about your core program but not how you serve older kids.”

The fact is, our messaging is all over the place because we have grown from a single crisis center on East Boulevard to an organization with three facilities helping thousands of youth each year. We’re about to embark on a $10 million capital campaign for a new building, and we need help streamlining the message and developing a communications strategy. That will help our brand become better recognized and understood. All of our big initiatives will come together only if we have a clear and recognizable brand.

When we learned about EmpoWWer, we thought, oh my gosh — Wray Ward is the answer. Their work shines. They’ve always been philanthropic.

To apply alone was a huge honor. To actually get a grant? Amazing.

What does the word “empower” mean to you?

TH: To tell someone else you believe in them. That they can do it — take whatever you’ve given them to make a decision and go forth and accomplish the goal, whatever it may be.

What about working with the agency do you most look forward to?

TH: Just the chance to work with the team. We did a Strategic Drill last week, and it was so fun to popcorn ideas. Watching (Vice President and Director of Insights) Charlie Elberson quickly narrow down some of the words he saw over and over in our conversation — it was like magic and so rewarding to see that he got it.

Does the world need more programs like EmpoWWer?

TH: Yes! But can they all be through Wray Ward?

Seriously, all nonprofits operate on a shoestring budget. I don’t think many have the budget to do work like this. The fact that you guys are giving us a branding strategy geared toward all of our audiences is amazing. We have to put our dollars toward our programs to make sure we can serve our clients.

As word spreads, more and more people will want to be part of EmpoWWer.

Think EmpoWWer could be a good fit for your nonprofit organization? Learn more about the program here and bookmark the page to check back for updates when applications for 2020 open in September. About EmpoWWer

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