With need great, more homeless teens to get help

- The beds are made, the rooms are ready, and for the teenagers who will move in, the world could change in a big way.

Thousands of teenagers are homeless in the Tampa Bay area, more than just about anywhere else in the country. Tiffany Rogers was one of those teens.

"My mom lost her job and she had drug problems," said Rogers, now 23 years old and a graduate of Starting Right Now, which helps homeless teens.

Rogers plans on graduating from USF soon with a degree in public health. She's also a resident assistant at Starting Right Now's new Pinellas County location.

"People say to me all the time, these are bad kids,” founder Vicki Sokolik said.  “These are amazing kids that were dealt a bad hand and without someone to help the shuffle the deck, they don't stand a chance."

There's no public funding. Ajax Construction and its sub-contractors donated the work to convert an old school in a full-serve campus. It will house nearly 50 homeless teens who are recommended by their schools.

Sokolik says she provides a hand up, not a hand-out.

"They have chores, they have rules, they have to be at school, they have to do their schoolwork, they have to be in our offices for leadership training, they have to work 20 hours a week," continued Sokoli, who founded Starting Right, Now in Tampa 10 years ago.

Since then, more than 200 homeless kids in the program have graduated and many went to college.

Pinellas school officials asked Sokolik to expand across the bay, where the numbers show the need is great.

"There were over 4,000 unaccompanied youth in Pinellas County, which makes it third in the nation for these kids with no permanent housing solutions. We are it," said Sokolik.

It was a lifesaver for Hillary. "I am soaring in the sky right now, compared to where I could be," she offered.

It's not just a bed for homeless teens, it's the chance for a future.

LINK: To learn more, visit www.startingrightnow.org

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