Photo contributed by Karen Elliott Greisdorf Photography
"Mom died and my aunt adopted me. She got a divorce, and I was sent to foster care until I turned 13. After that, I was in a boys' home. I got wild and crazy and started to skip school. I got expelled. I was 16."
At 16, the folks from the boys' home in New York told George they could get him emancipated. He opted for that. It sounded good at the moment, no more rules.
Emancipation also meant homelessness. George didn't know where to go. He spent the first two weeks hiding in the woods behind the home.
Then, he started to move from state to state, hitchhiking and hanging around with other kids in places like Daytona Beach: "Wherever my thumb would take me, that's where I would go."
Now in his fifties, George says he has been homeless in 49 states.
Looking back on his teenage life on the street, he shares how disempowered he felt: "I didn't know how to talk to people or how to present myself."
There were jobs here and there but never enough money to keep a place to live. So George would take to the road again: "I thought there was something out there that I was missing. I then had the identity of homeless drifter."
George slept outside a lot. He was too young to get into a shelter. He tried to go back to foster care but he could not get back into the system.
Now, George has his own apartment sponsored by our partner, Anne Frank House. He has become a trusted member of the Friendship Place community, somebody we go to for advice on processes like strategic planning, branding and messaging or redesigning our Welcome Center.
He is serving on our Board of Directors, has run our Consumer Council and belongs to the Peer Leadership Group which advises my position on service needs and best practices. He volunteers with peers in our drop-in center. He has worked on our peer outreach team. He likes to give back.
George has also been active on our Speakers Bureau and with the National Coalition for the Homeless, going all over the country, again, to educate college students and community groups on homelessness.
He has a lot of wisdom to share.
That's why I was interested to hear his thoughts about Before Thirty, the new privately-funded program for people age 17 to 29 that helps them get a start in life through flexible person-tailored approaches.
When he heard about the program, George was moved. Friendship Place, his own community, was now helping young people with support that was never available to him when he was their age. He could think of himself in those years and imagine them coming to us for services. He said, "If it were around when I was young, I would have stayed in one place and that would have changed my life. I became so addicted to the streets and homelessness that, that was my life. I couldn't adjust to mainstream life, I needed a program like Before Thirty."
We're grateful that George is helping us help others.