October 13, 2020

Autumn blessings from the SYMin team!

 Congratulations, Jerameel!

SYMin team members Tondra (left) and Yolanda stop by the food trailer where client Jerameel (in back) got a job. The Food Court is right across the street from the Drop-by location where clients gather for food, clothing and other items.

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October 6, 2020

Arrival of baby changed it all for client Chuy


Chuy became a client several years ago when she found herself on the streets, addicted to drugs, beset with anxiety, drama and trauma. At first, she came for food, sleeping bags, clothing, etc. Later, she joined Art Group and displayed a wonderful talent. Next, she experienced healing during Peer Support Group and Bible Study, followed by deep, one-on-one counseling sessions with team members.

   Addiction, however, hounded her – until the day she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child. That day was the beginning of her journey to long-term sobriety. She was living in a tent near the UT campus, working long shifts and saving money for the day her baby was born. She began making decisions with her child in mind. She found a stable home with a family member, and when her son was born, she gave him every comfort.

   When the pandemic hit, she reconnected with our on-line support group several times a week, logging onto Zoom for SYMin Sisters and Heart to Heart. These groups offered her wisdom and prayer. Today, she has an excellent job and is working toward new and larger goals. Chuy is an excellent mother, and she loves her son, whom she named Guage, with all her heart. We are so proud of Chuy!

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September 29, 2020

SYMin targets infant mortality, and a big surprise emerges


Some weeks ago, I noticed a big change had sneaked up on us — a good change. First, I want to go back to our 2015 annual report. We made a pledge to do something about a terrible problem: the infant mortality rate among our clients living around Guadalupe Street was far higher than the rate elsewhere in the United States. Women were becoming pregnant, and the children were not being born alive or weren’t being born at all, due to late-term miscarriages or stillbirth or failure to thrive in the first month. Most who did survive wound up in CPS custody.

It was a horrible situation, and we went to work on it. We tried several things, but none worked until we called the men and women in the community together. First, we urged them to have fewer babies, because they were not ready. That message didn’t resonate. A second message did: children were dying because we weren’t taking good care of the pregnant mothers. At that time, it was common for the community to say to newly pregnant women, “You stay right here with us on the street and we’ll take care of you.” That failed to recognize problems of stress and drugs, especially a new drug at that time called K2 or synthetic cannabinoid.

So — we made it a community goal that women would spend as many months of their pregnancies off the streets as possible. As a result, it is now common for girls who get pregnant to say, “Oh, my goodness, I have to get off the streets,” and for them to seek resources, including friends, family or supported housing. Over the next 18 months — well into 2017 – they made solid progress. We taught them about prenatal care for themselves and their unborn, and how to make plans for nine months ahead. Still, the newborns often wound up in CPS custody, as has been the case for almost all my 20 years working with homeless young adults.

It’s 2020 now (oh boy, is it ever!). We still have about one pregnancy a month – or about nine pregnant clients at any given time, but something amazing has happened. We began hiring more diverse members to our team. We hired more women, and they formed a women’s group, and the women’s group has been particularly supportive of pregnant women and new mothers. I noticed about a month ago that we have six women under our care whose children are living at home with them. That’s far more than ever!

Yes, it’s still a struggle for our moms, and perhaps it’s not ideal, but they are now stable enough they can keep their kids. (There usually is some inspection by CPS from time to time.) I’m really proud of our clients for owning the challenge of making enough change that they can keep their children with them and raise them! This is how we break the cycle of street youth and street dependency.

This is how poverty is solved — one family at a time. I am often asked why there are homeless young adults. And the answer is the breakdown of the family. I don’t want to blame anyone, but one way or another the homeless kiddos do not have the same support their peers in college or at home have – the same housing, supportive parents, educational opportunities and so on. The difference is the families of origin of our clients don’t have the tools or resources or the ability to give that support.

We continue to work toward solutions. And for now, we celebrate the fact that clients under our care have kids at home with them! Thank you for supporting our work and being involved with us. It truly does make a difference! Change is why we love working with our homeless young adults. The future is very bright for them — when they claim it. And we love being guidance counselors as they move through this journey and mature and claim their futures!

                                  — TERRY

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September 25, 2020

Theme weeks prove popular with clients

We continue to adapt our delivery of services to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on the size of gatherings have limited the opportunities for partner groups to volunteer, but we’ve come up with a great idea to counter that — theme weeks.

Most recently, 12 clients participated in the first activity day of Fashion & Jobs Week, at which they were encouraged to pursue their dream jobs. (see photos) Between now and the end of the year, the following weeks will have themes:

Sept. 28 — Self-Care Week (eat well, rest well, care for your body, care for your mind, care for your soul)

Oct. 12 — Exploring Your Identity Week (loving yourself, your heritage, who you are, finding yourself and your community)

Oct. 26 — Halloween Week (includes All Saints Day

Nov. 1 — Day of the Dead, goblins and fun)

Nov. 9 — Favorite Foods Week  (food foods, comfort foods, practical foods)

Nov. 23 — Feast/Gratitude Week (it starts the last two days of the prior week — gratitude, plenty, harvest, feasts of all sorts)

Three and a half weeks of Christmas: Faith 11/30, Hope 12/7, Love 12/14, Peace Out 12/21-22.    Exactly what happens is really up to our partners and volunteers as we brainstorm together how to best help our clients explore and engage each theme in fun and uplifting ways. Partners also can help collect and deliver the needed materials, and — if all parties deem it’s sufficiently safe — participate outdoors with our clients, remembering to wear masks and observe social distancing.

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July 15, 2020

Happy Juneteenth!

On June 19, the clients were celebrating Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas and this year symbolized hope of social justice and equality for all. Clients enjoyed delicious hot meals cooked by volunteers with donated ingredients. Serving was through the front gate of the Drop-in Center; check out the menu!

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July 12, 2020

Clients flocking to SYMin services!

Covid-19 restrictions hit many clients hard immediately, costing them jobs and apartments. Clients turned to SYMin en masse — we reached an all-time April high of 150 clients with drop-by and on-line services. Clients have fulfilled 422 goals this year thru April, another all-time high. We split our staff into two teams — one stays at home and works the phones and internet, chasing down resources that suddenly are more difficult to find; the other sorts in-kind donations and prepares food at the Drop-in Center so clients can be served as they come to the gate outside.

Here are some highlights from a recent day:

  • Five people spent time in our Zoom prayer group.
  • One client got a new job and plans to come to the drop-by for work clothes.
  • Another spent some time learning DIY car repair since she cannot afford repairs right now.
  • Eight clients joined us for Virtual Movie Night and enjoyed chatting and watching Scooby Doo!
  • Eighteen clients came by to get food pantry bags and clothing.
  • A young woman made use of the outside laptop to research jobs and how to get a copy of her social security card.
Hot meals still served
Hot meals are still a favorite. We prepare them inside the Drop-in Center, then pass them to clients through the gate outside.

Drop-by services

We re-organized our clothing and other client supplies so we can carry the right sizes out to the front gate more quickly.
Client events go on-line
Our client events have all gone virtual since the Drop-in Center became inaccessible to groups of 10 or more. Client links to them on Facebook.

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July 10, 2020

Clients flock to SYMin ‘Drop-by’ Services

Indoor activities at the Drop-in Center remain suspended as we start June, but staff can still use the facility to collect and sort donations and prepare hot meals and food bags for distribution to clients outside at the front gate.

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May 8, 2020

Adapting to the virus!

Our “Drop-by team” handed out supplies, food and clothing through the gates in front of the Drop-in Center as we met clients — keeping a safe distance — after coronavirus restrictions were put in force. The offerings included a pizza party, above and at right!

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May 7, 2020

SYMin during Covid Times – a point of light for many

SYMin President Terry Cole shares two short stories from a recent day at the Drop-in and environs. One’s about an idea shared by a client, something the organization may adopt. The other one, well, it started like this:
   “Today, a young man came by, very agitated, very irritated and down. We served him hot food, gave him clothing. He was grateful but agitated. He talked about the world getting so dark.
   “All of that may be true, I told him, but I need you to look at me. And I need you to listen to me. You are experiencing a bright point. There are two people here to serve you today who could be at home, and hundreds of people collecting the food you are eating. Someone put the sandwich together, someone baked the cookies, and they all chose to do this. Thousands of people support us in prayer and volunteer. This is a spot of brightness in your life.”

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May 6, 2020

Partner Opportunities During this pandemic

Partner opportunities …

We’re keen to reboot our partner program as soon as we know it’s safe for our clients, staff and volunteers. We anticipate that we’ll make calls sometime in May for the following:

 1. Volunteers who can work at least 8 hours a week alone or in pairs
 2. Groups of 8-10 who can work on the weekend without clients to get us ready to reopen
 3. Two full-time Monday through Friday 9am–5pm summer interns.
 4. Groups who can come to our center for a special two-hour event for clients of high value but limited interaction. (e.g., a social distanced activity like a worship band, individual crafts or special meal).

  We need to know our clients are safe and won’t go through an infection cycle before we can reboot our volunteer program and indoor events. You can call our home team (512 553-3796) to register your interest in any of these once we are able to proceed.

Before the virus!
One of our clients speaks to a group of volunteer youth from Covenant Presbyterian Church, who included SYMin in their annual “Love Austin” community service event. They were the last group that was able to mingle with clients before the coronavirus restrictions took hold. We look forward to group events returning when it’s safe for all. Give our home team a call at 512 553-3796!

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