By: Katie Sobiech
The drama, “Life’s Not Over”, was woven together beautifully…
“I was just amazed to watch it all develop. It was just something that was inspired; that was being revealed,” Debra Manteghi, District Homeless Education Liaison and Program Manager with Akron Public Schools, said.
The cast agreed.
“God set things up,” Nellie Taylor, a.k.a. Ms. Hubert in the play, said.
Myrna Johnson, the Narrator, met Tyron Hoisten, the writer of the script, when he was just 15 years old.
“When I met him I said ‘I’m gonna follow him cause this guy is going somewhere and I’m going to support him in whatever way I can’,” Johnson said.
“Tyron showed hope and the power of faith,” Manteghi said, “And the cast did a fabulous job. I don’t think any of us expected it to be as golden as it was. The whole thing had a life of its own, and it was driven by one young lady and her circumstances.”
This young lady, “Catherine”, now a graduate of Ellet High School, was once homeless.
The “Invisible” Youth
Some homeless youth are not identified as homeless for different reasons.
“Not everybody understands homelessness. It is political, and people that are homeless don’t always want to reveal all of their circumstances,” Manteghi said.
Those who identify the homeless youth often say the youth make up different stories.
“They may not want you to know the real story – out of fear. It’s hard for people to understand that,” Manteghi said, “Sometimes they are afraid to let you know where they are because in some of the Section 8 housing, or if they have housing vouchers, they aren’t allowed to have people live with them, and if they do they can lose their housing,” Manteghi explained.
She continued, “I think the numbers (800 homeless youth) are really just the surface and there are more out there, but they are not as easily identified, or get missed somehow. You have to work within systems, departments and the different schools and clusters and hopefully you can capture as many students as you can.”
Project Rise is a ray of hope to the homeless youth in our local schools and shelters, offering mentoring, life skills, field trips and more.
“If they are in the shelters we serve them, tutor them, help with transportation and work with other district liaisons,” Manteghi said.
Though the purpose of Project Rise is to educate a child, they also take into account the importance of a holistic approach.
“We can’t just educate a person without really taking into account the whole person,” Chiew Johnson, a tutor at Project Rise, said.
“We have to educate the whole person. I believe we are made of body, soul and spirit and we have to take care of all those components of a person. With one of our girls we were trying to educate her but there was so much turmoil going on in her life. Debra was like a fireman putting out the fire before it was incinerated,” Johnson explained.
The Gift Within
Shayla McReynolds, or Kathrynne Hubert in the play, spoke about the necessity of nurturing the gifts within the youth.
“Young people want to be helped, but they also want to nurture some talents that they have inside,” McReynolds said.
“Do they need singing lessons? Do they want to learn how to read? There are things they want to do but when they are so concentrated on how to live day to day its like ‘Ok, what else do I want?’”
She inspires them to think outside of the box.
“When you have young people that don’t have any support system, you’re asking an awful lot of them to make adult decisions when they’re not getting support, guidance or the love that they need to make a good path in this world for themselves and others,” Manteghi added.
“I work downtown on Mill Street and you just wouldn’t believe how many homeless people you see walk past the windows,” Le’Dejeuner Gordon, a.k.a. Patience Hall, said.
“Sometimes you get an uneasy feeling, but I walk in the spirit of God and some of those people, you can just feel they’re tired,” Gordon said, “You see them running…you see them catching the bus…”
The hardest part she says is seeing homeless kids.
“You see a lot of kids and it’s heartbreaking. You can tell which ones are less fortunate by their facial expressions. You can tell they are crying for help,” Gordon said.
She agrees there is a lack of people coming together as a “village” to help these kids.
“We’re not doing enough anymore. We’re so worried about ourselves, the economy, politics…and our kids are making up for it. We just keep saying ‘Oh they are so bad’ and this and this… but nobody is stepping up to the plate to help them, and I think that goes back to it takes a village.”
“Everybody has to work together as a village. We’re vessels. All you’ve got to do is start with one,” she said.
One issue in the city is that of trafficking and exploitation.
“The increasing human trafficking is a real concern,” Johnson said.
“You get a guy who’s got these young girls who don’t know any better, coming out of High school, and don’t have anywhere to go and there’s a guy waiting for them telling them they are pretty,” Gordon explained, “Next thing they know is they’re doing things to make money, not even thinking that what they are doing is hurting themselves.”
A lie she says many of the young girls believe is ‘He is going to help me, he’s going to take care of me, and he’s showing me love and attention’.
“They aren’t getting it at home, and there it is… These men are using them to stand on the streets or sell drugs,” Gordon said.
“It’s very easy for it to become an option – it could almost even look attractive. In a way it’s almost a form of rebellion,” Manteghi said.
“I don’t want to see them preyed upon, exploited, in trafficking or ending up being a dancer. You know that’s not going to be the best life for them…you know what’s going to happen,” she continued.
Unemployment in Akron
“I recently heard that Akron is doubling in our unemployment, so you can’t even imagine what the numbers of homeless are going to be this year with parents not having jobs,” Gordon said.
“I can’t imagine what the kids are trying to do to help their mom and families and brothers and sisters…I can’t imagine what the numbers are going to be this year,” she continued.
It’s Not Over
Throughout the process of writing “Life’s Not Over”, Tyron Hoisten’s eyes were opened, “You never know what anybody’s going through,” he said.
“This play was like a dream come true for me. I was just telling someone the title “Life’s Not Over” and I started thinking ‘Wow…life isn’t over…I’m at a new beginning! I’m starting some new things now, things that I should’ve done years ago,” Taylor said. “Life is just beginning, it’s not over.”
“There was a sense of ‘We need to continue doing this. We need to continue this work’ and perform and take this play to other venues as well,” Manteghi said.
The Ohio Association of Family Consumer Sciences already contacted them about putting on another performance this spring. They are also open to putting on the play again here in Akron for anyone interested.
Do you have a heart for the homeless youth?
There are many ways to help. Number one, Project Rise needs to be funded. They also need volunteers.
“We request contributions and donations. It could be of your time, funding, materials…and so on because we do a lot of other projects as well. The most important thing though is to provide staff people for the students and parents,” Manteghi said.
“These kids are in my prayers, and prayers are good, but we still have to do the work while we’re here on earth,” Manteghi said.
For more information on Project Rise and how you can help homeless youth please call 330.761.2969.