Lisa C Cantwell
On Hansonville Road, about nine miles south of Thurmont, sits a big, three-story whitewashed house with an inviting front porch that seems to personify the word “home.” And, home it will be, very soon, to a group of special young men, ages 16 to 22 years, who are transitioning out of foster care to independent living. They will need guidance and support, and this is the place with a unique and innovative program that will help them succeed.
This home, christened “STEADFAST” (Standing Firm Against Youth Homelessness), is due to open in 2023. STEADFAST, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has been the dream and mission of its founder and executive director, Cindy Morgan, since 2018.
Morgan knows the challenge to end homelessness in Frederick County is a tall order, but if anyone can start the process to break the cycle, it’s this determined former CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and her team of dedicated board, staff, and volunteers.
The need to support homeless or unaccompanied youth with no parent or guardian is well-established, according to the statistics reported within STEADFAST’s mission brochure that states:
“More than 23,000 children age out of foster care each year. Fifty percent of transitional youth will experience homelessness within 18 months of emancipation. There are at least 145 homeless youth in Frederick County.”
Morgan’s late father, Robert Jefferson Hemby, Jr., was the major inspiration behind the concept of STEADFAST.
“From the age of four through high school, my father grew up in foster care. At one point, as a teen, his foster mother died and his foster father moved out. He lived by himself and had no electricity. He fished to eat. It snowed more inside than outside the farmhouse,” said Morgan. “He survived. All my dad wanted was a home and family. By age 29, he had five kids with my mother, his high school sweetheart.”
Along with her right-arm and house lead, Kelly Christiano, (MSW/Case Manager), Morgan hopes to complete the final phases of fundraising and hiring before the grand opening.
“The atmosphere will be less like a shelter and more like a dorm, not a group home,” said Morgan, adding, “This is not a crisis center, although counseling will be available. We’re more of hands-on, mission-focused, transformational environment.”
Although this opening phase will serve young men, plans are being formulated to serve young women at a future location as well.
The residents will include referrals from various agencies throughout Frederick County. Individuals in need may also submit an application. The program-based environment will require goal-setting of its residents upon arrival in the form of an individual life plan. They will be required to work, attend school, and take in-house courses in life skills such as financial planning, resume writing, workforce training, cooking, and laundry duties.
All will be encouraged to earn their high school diploma or GED and a driver’s license. Employment is a must. In fact, each resident will pay rent based on their income, with 90 percent allotted to a savings account, which they will receive upon graduation from the program. Residents may live up to three years in the home. Once they leave, they will have a lifetime of caring support from the staff of STEADFAST, just like a model family.
“This will be home base as they work and go to school,” Christiano said. “We will provide stability and safety in a home-like environment and help them build strong relationships so they can become healthy, independent adults.”
Recreational and volunteer opportunities will abound, as no young person’s homelife should be all work, school, and no play. For example, a light-hearted, home-cooked “Sunday Dinner” is planned as the highlight of every week, where all of the STEADFAST residents will gather around the table to sup and converse about the stuff of life, just like family. One of the first activities of welcome for residents is to decorate and personalize a dining room chair, which they may take upon graduation.
Several fundraisers are currently underway, as individual and corporate donations are the lifeblood of this nonprofit. Currently, STEADFAST has a lighted mini-airboat in the charity fundraiser, “Sailing Through the Winter Solstice” on Carroll Creek, now through March 4. A contribution to their cause gets their boat a vote for each dollar given. A trophy is awarded to the boat and charity with the most votes. Also, for Christmas giving, a beautiful STEADFAST ornament has been created by the glass artist, Yemi. This item can be ordered through his website at yemiart.com. Corporate donors may contribute through the “There’s No Place Like Home” campaign which offers commemorative naming opportunities of rooms within the home. The Founders’ Club is another donor program which offers memberships at many levels of affordable giving to benefit the residents.
Morgan and Christiano are grateful for all of the volunteer and community support they’ve received for STEADFAST to finally become a reality. Morgan is especially indebted to Frederick Christian Fellowship (FCF) for graciously providing the home, rent-free, that will serve as a place of stability, support, and love for the future residents of STEADFAST. “We’re so close to opening,” Morgan said. “It’s in God’s hands that final funding will come and we can open our doors.”
Follow STEADFAST on Facebook at “Steadfast, Standing Firm Against Youth Homelessness.”
For more information about STEADFAST, donor/giving, and volunteer and staffing opportunities, contact by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, online at www.steadfastmd.org, or call 301-304-9133.
Cindy Morgan (left), founder and executive director, and Kelly Christiano (right), lead house manager, prepare to open STEADFAST, a home for young men transitioning out of foster care.
Cindy Morgan (left) and Kelly Christiano (right) stand on the porch of STEADFAST.