by Blake Herzog
Young women “aging out” of the foster care system in Yavapai County have a new option for housing through the Northern Arizona Dream Center as they make the transition to adulthood.
Over the last year and a half the Prescott-based nonprofit, founded by Alisa Cool and Amy Henwood, has provided seven young women with the shelter and structure they need to build a strong foundation for the rest of their lives.
“The housing really helps prevent the young adults from being exploited, from going into deeper substance abuse, from trafficking,” Cool said. “When they age out of foster care and they’re homeless, the statistics are so stacked against them that they may be trafficked, they may become addicted; they may be incarcerated.”
Studies of youth exiting the foster care system at 18 have found 20% instantly become homeless, 50% will become substance-addicted and seven out of 10 young women will become pregnant by age 21, she said.
“When there’s housing, we’re able to step in and be a part of preventing trafficking, exploitation, substance abuse. Housing is the most critical thing for these young women in order for them to have a different life, and a better life, that isn’t all based on surviving,” Cool said.
The Dream Center has leased two residences in the Quad Cities area. Young adult women apply to the program after they’re referred by their caseworker from the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Once accepted, residents pay nominal monthly rent for a bed in a home with up to three other former foster kids, supervised by a “house mentor.” They’re required to either work, go to school or take on some combination of the two. They must also take care of assigned chores around the house and meet with their own mentor, who provides additional advice and support as they start to pursue their goals.
The goal is for residents to move into more permanent housing within a year and a half, but it’s expected that some will take longer, while others can do it in less than six months. Cool and Henwood said they hope to expand the program to serve young men leaving foster care, once enough funding can be raised.
The Northern Arizona Dream Center’s roots stretch to the Philippines, where both women have been active for the past five years with a charity that houses girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. In 2017, the friends began to talk about how they could support a similar cause in the U.S.
“We began our research in the (Prescott) community, by talking with juvenile probation, and county attorney, and many others involved in the foster care arena and all of them said the biggest thing is housing,” Henwood said. “So it was from there that we believed, and actually felt God leading us, to open a home for at-risk youth in Yavapai County and Northern Arizona.”
Fundraising began with a series of local events in the summer of 2017, with the community’s support leading to the opening of the first home in 2018. The center hosted its first Dream Ball at the Hotel St. Michael in downtown Prescott last September, for which tickets included five professional dance lessons prior to the dance.
“We may need a bigger venue this year,” Henwood said, based on the feedback from the inaugural ball.
Photo: The founders of Northern Arizona Dream Center are (from left) Amy Henwood and Alisa Cool. Photo courtesy of Northern Arizona Dream Center.