Give Them Wings is a sober housing program for young men in Hood River, Oregon. It exists for two reasons. First, foster care parents sometimes turn young boys loose when they turn 18. These boys often find themselves homeless, suffering from substance use issues, and with no life skills. The other reason is the lack of training programs in the area for young people not bound for college.
Allyson Pate, Give Them Wings founder and Board Chair, saw how little opportunity was available in this rural community for young men. She describes, “I have a son who was personally struggling. Our family is pretty put together and he still fell through the cracks. When I looked into options, I found there was nothing available for my son. He floundered through school and continues to struggle.”
Although Ms. Pate worked in marketing at the time, this personal experience led her to understand that young men in the area seemed to take much longer to mature. She also saw a need for a safety net for young people in the foster care community. After meeting a number of like-minded people, she founded the nonprofit organization Give Them Wings.
The program runs on a very lean budget. It enrolls 10 young men each year. Ms. Pate volunteers her time on the Board of Directors (she is also Chair of the Commission on Children & Families, Citizens Review Board). The organization has two paid employees. The program has a 9-month waiting list. Get Them Wings provides young men with opportunities for housing, work, mental health support, life skills, recovery, understanding house life, and collaboration. She explains, “Talking about their feelings is the hardest thing we work on. They want their lives to improve and I feel so lucky that this community has provided the tools that we need to do the heavy lifting.”
The group first broke ground on a sober living house outside of town. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The program accepts four young men in the house at a time. Initially residents were required to have 30 days of sobriety to qualify for housing, but that proved to be too restrictive. Today, the sobriety requirement is 2 weeks prior to entering the program. Residents do not have access to 12-step programs given the rural location. Many of the youth in the area come from chronically disabled and methamphetamine-using families; the program does not work with youth who have a history of long-term methamphetamine use.
The young men attend a life skills program one night a week that is faith-based and addresses trauma. Much of what the young men work on relates to daily living and consistency. They work with staff off-site on projects for companies and individuals. Ms. Pate notes that the program stresses basic skills and is often very physical, “We teach our young men to make breakfast, work hard, cook, do laundry, and get up the next day and do it all over again.” After his first day, one young man remarked, “We’re going to do that again?”
The program is voluntary and does not accept court appointed youth. The enrollment process involves calling for an application, filling it out and sending it back, scheduling an interview, participating in 2 days of work, and then participating in a 2-week trial. Only one in four young men typically will pass through the entire process.
Once residents demonstrate success at work and develop a relationship with an employer, there are internships available to explore possible career opportunities. Up until this point, the men have low expectations in their own minds and the internships help to encourage them and broaden possibilities. The young men have a chance to ask themselves the profound question: “What do I want to do?” They receive $20 of “walking around money” and $250 in a savings account. The savings account helps them to pay off old debts and invest in future expenses such as a car or a new business.
The program is 9 months from start to graduation, though not everyone stays that long. Through Federal housing dollars, Get Them Wings can provide 2 years of housing and food assistance. The program stays in touch with former residents, often inviting them to dinner or rafting excursions.
The house has a garden on site, which is a living food-yielding metaphor for recovery. Ms. Pate emphasizes, “When you come here, you are restarting, and you come here to regrow yourself into something healthier. The garden is such a great conversation piece for healthy living and processing yourself.”
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