Homeless as a Child, Ohio Advocate for Homeless Children Receives National Award

Nov 21, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Washington, D.C. -- Angela Lariviere, 30, who as a child learned the hard realities of homelessness, has spent the past four years developing self-help and empowerment projects that directly benefit Ohio"s 35,000 homeless children and their education. In recognition of her work, she is the 2002 recipient of a national Catholic award presented annually to recognize young Catholics who have taken leadership roles in fighting poverty and injustice.

The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award is presented each year by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the national anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The award honors Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1928-1996), a leading voice on behalf of the poor who saw the need to build bridges across ethnic, class and age barriers. The award was presented in November in Washington, D.C., during the USCCB’s annual meeting.

Ms. Lariviere has spent the past two years developing and coordinating the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), based in Columbus. The Project addresses the needs of homeless children and youth through self-help, youth-run area councils, which offer children another way to think and talk about their homelessness instead of feeling despair.

"I grew up in several homeless situations my entire life, moving 39 times, attending 13 different schools," said Ms. Lariviere, "and I thought I was isolated. When I came here as an AmeriCorps coordinator, I really had a hard time adapting to the idea that there are 35,000 kids in Ohio going through the same exact experiences that I had, and it"s 15 years later.

"These kids go to school. They are normal kids. They want to live normal lives. They don"t want to be singled out," Ms. Lariviere said. "And they"re up against a community that has misconceptions about what homelessness is, and who homeless people are. Homeless families make up 40% of the homeless population. The fastest growing segment of the homeless population is children under five.

An important part of the YEP councils are the service projects that give transitional children a tie to the neighborhood or community. "Homeless children move from neighborhood to neighborhood and program to program, but never establish the strong community ties that you need to feel supported," Ms. Lariviere said.

Over the past two years, YEP has surveyed more than 700 homeless youth to identify the issues facing them and help design the YEP program. At the same time, YEP worked with Ohio legislators to pass the first state law that protects the rights of a homeless child to an education.

CCHD Executive Director Father Robert J. Vitillo said, "Angela"s organization had already come to my attention before she received this award because she applied for and received a CCHD grant. Our grants support efforts among low-income people to help themselves and to change the societal conditions that make and keep people poor. In addition, the U.S. bishops have charged CCHD with educating all people in this country about the root causes of poverty, and with building solidarity between the poor and those who have access to greater wealth. Angela"s efforts to educate people about homelessness among children and to give hope back to these young victims of poverty are very close to the CCHD mission. We are all inspired by her work in Ohio, and rejoice in her receipt of the Bernardin New Leadership Award.

Over the past two years, YEP youth have been successful in: gaining increased funding for education programs for homeless children; creating a statewide plan with Head Start to provide better services to homeless children; working with the Ohio Department of Development to change state shelter policies that discriminate against teenage boys; gaining seats for youth representatives on several homeless and housing coalitions; and creating a partnership within the United Nations so that YEP can provide input to policies affecting homeless youth internationally.

The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award is presented to a young Catholic between the ages of 18 and 30 who demonstrates leadership in dealing with the root causes of poverty. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is one of the nation"s largest funding organizations for self-help, community-based programs initiated and led by poor people. Funds come from Catholics who donate to an annual collection in parishes across the country. This year, in most parishes, the fund-raising collection will be November 23-24. CCHD has distributed more than $260 million to more than 4,000 self-help projects over its 32 years. In September, CCHD announced more than $10 million in grants to support 339 local projects, selected without regard to religious affiliation, in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

By Paige McMahon