Horizon Home

Part 1: Ready or Not
Part 2: Preparation for Independence

So what are the options for the Love and Hope kids when they turn eighteen? The child welfare laws in El Salvador (LEPINA) state that after a young person turns eighteen, they are no longer an adolescent and they are no longer part of “the system.” They are legally an independent adult. Children’s Homes in El Salvador are prohibited from having anyone over the age of eighteen in a home with children and adolescents that are still part of the child welfare system.

But at Love and Hope our mission does not stop when our “kids” turn eighteen. In fact, we’ve found that the transition years from teen to adult are some of the most important years for young people to feel supported in order to successfully reach independence. We want our kids to be certain that there is hope and a bright future on their horizon. That is why we created the Horizon Home.

We want our kids to be certain that there is hope and a bright future on their horizon.

When our kids turn eighteen they can now continue to stay in a home where they are being loved, supported, and encouraged while they finish high school and continue on through university. Of course, some things do change when they enter the Horizon House. Here they start to learn more practical skills for independence: working, cooking, shopping, paying bills (perhaps they want a cell phone), navigating public transportation, going alone to doctor’s visits, and much more. There is no one forcing them to do their homework or make it to class on time, but rather there are standards they have to meet in order to continue stay at the Horizon House.

Without the Horizon House, many of our kids would be forced to return to biological family they don’t know very well, or to live in a part of the country that lacks security and opportunity. In many ways, it would be a dead end. By providing safe housing (universities here do not have dormitories), access to transportation, and the resources necessary to study (computers, internet, etc) they can continue to invest in their education and future. It also allows them to be surrounded by people who can help them navigate the challenges of this new stage of life with Godly wisdom and love. We’ve walked by these kids most (or nearly all!) of their first 18 years, and we plan to help them reach their full potential.

Are you a person that remembers navigating the difficult transition into adulthood? If you had people in your life that played a significant role in setting you up for success, or if you wish you had people to support you at that time in your life, consider doing just that for the young people at Love and Hope!

Each month is takes an average of $3,500 to keep the Horizon House up and running. This includes rent, the salaries of the two staff members that are on alternating shifts, food, bills and even the education of the young people that are currently residing in the home! While a university education is financially out of reach for many in El Salvador, it is very affordable compared to the United States. Many of our kids are able to attend top universities in El Salvador for around $150/month.

If you’d like to support the Horizon Home, please visit our donation page to give once, or become a monthly sponsor. If you’re interested in helping sponsor a youth through university, please contact us.

In our next post, we’ll share some stories from our young adults that show how support from the Horizon Home has helped them achieve success.

Preparation for Independence

The young people at Love and Hope have all entered our home at different ages. Some were already seven years old and a few years late in starting their education; others weren’t even a month old! No matter what their background or their story, the work Love and Hope does to prepare our young people for independence starts the day they walk through our doors. How do you prepare a 5 day old, a nine-month old, a four year old, or a seven year old for independence? By providing a safe, loving environment where they can grow and develop the necessary skills for independence. Of course, there are many skills that make us more likely to succeed independently, but I want to focus on just a few.

Attachment: Isn’t that the opposite of independence? Not at all! The independent person has healthy attachment. Because of early childhood trauma, many of us experience that push and pull in relationships and are constantly trying to prove that we are unloveable in order to protect ourself from the pain of rejection and abandonment. Reactive attachment is common in kids growing up in children’s homes and the primary cause is not forming healthy, appropriate relationships (attachments) at a young age. At Love and Hope we try to let the kids choose who to form these close bonds with. To be chosen as what we refer to as a “persona referente” or a “significant person” in a child’s life is a great honor. We try to provide opportunity for those bonds to be strengthened, nourished and long-lasting. Many of our visitors, sponsors, volunteers and staff members have played this important role in the lives of our young people.

Resilience: Another skill that we strive to develop in our young people is resilience. Our trauma does not define us. Resilience is not denial. Resilience is the acceptance of our past and the power to choose who we want to be and to shape our own future. We foster resilience in our kids in many ways: personal, group and family counseling; opportunities to pursue hobbies, sports and other personal interests; and most importantly through a relationship with Jesus Christ through whom we can “endure all things (I Corinthians 13:7).” Being resilient allows us to endure the ups and downs of independence: job loss, a relationship that didn’t work out, struggling to make ends meet, etc.

Autonomy: One of our main goals for our young people is autonomy. It’s that sweet spot that every parent dreams of for their kids. It’s the person that does what is right when no one is looking. It’s the one who stands up for what they believe, not to please others, but because of personal conviction. I’m reminded of James 1:23-25 “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Our kids are told that their opinion matters, that their voice counts and that they can change the world. And we aren’t just trying to make them feel good, we believe it! It is hard for a person with low self esteem to acquire autonomy. Our young people are required to participate in after school activities. If there is something they are interested in, we will work to find them the opportunity to pursue it. In our home our kids have participated in soccer, skating, basketball, baseball, field hockey, gymnastics, dance, ballet, tae kwon doe, kickboxing, volleyball, painting, piano, guitar, singing, cooking, sewing and more! Coordinating activities for all our kids is not easy, but the pay back is kids that are confident in themselves, have explored their talents and have pushed themselves to new heights. These kids have the self esteem to believe that their life has a purpose and that if they set goals, they can reach them.

Ambition: Desire and determination to achieve success is the definition of Ambition. Attachment, resilience and autonomy make for an ambitious person. From the time our kids start kindergarten we start encouraging their personal ambition. They get prizes for bringing home good grades. There is always someone there watching them at practice and encouraging them not to give up. As they get older we help them create their “life plan” to explore who they want to be, what their God-given abilities are, what career they want to pursue. Our youth are provided with a tutor for math, science and English so that they can achieve their full potential.

As they enter their final year of high school we plan college visits, provide aptitude tests and walk beside them as they seek where to place their foot for this next step in life: Independence.

In our next post, we’ll explore what happens when our kids turn 18 and legally become independent adults.

Ready or Not

What would you do if your child was turning eighteen and they weren’t quite ready to be on their own? What if they were still finishing high school? What if they had some emotional difficulties or disabilities that prevented their independence at this age?

Would you wake up on the morning of their eighteenth birthday, hand them a few garbage bags, tell them to pack up their belongings, and say, “It’s time to go?”

That is exactly what happens at government orphanages in El Salvador. Let me tell you the story of a young boy that I know personally. Miguel would be turning eighteen on July 15th. He had been living at an all boys orphanage for the past two years, and no family members had ever come to visit. In June the orphanage’s one social worker realized that Miguel had no family to go to. The countdown to the dreaded day for Miguel had begun. He wasn’t concerned about whether or not he’d get the birthday present he wanted, or whether there’d be cake at his party. Instead he asked himself, what would he do if no family was found? Where would he sleep on the night of his eighteenth birthday? He was half way through ninth grade, would he get to finish the school year? Would he ever finish high school?

On July 3rd, a great aunt was found. Marta lived with her husband and her elderly mother. Miguel could stay with them, but they had nothing to offer him. No bed, no promise to stay in school, but they could provide a roof over his head: Sold! He’d take it. After all it was his only option.

The night before his birthday, Miguel was given a large garbage bag. The next morning he put his belongings inside the bag, a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of jeans. The school year was only half way through, but he packed his notebooks, hoping he’d find a school near his new home that would take him in. If not, he’d have to count the year a loss and start 9th grade again the following school year. 

The social worker and the other kids wished Miguel a happy birthday; no cake, no present, no decorations. They wished him well and Miguel walked to the gate of the orphanage to wait for these strangers to pick him up and take him home. Miguel’s heart was filled with gratitude, his birthday wish had come true: he had a place to go.

Over the next few weeks we will be introducing you to our Horizon Ministry – Love and Hope’s transitional program for young adults “leaving the system.” Please follow along and consider how you can be part of walking alongside our young people as they transition into adulthood.