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Graduation Stories: AFG’s high school graduates share their struggles and triumphs

May. 4 2016 | Tags: , , , ,

This spring, high school seniors everywhere will be counting the days until their graduation day. Graduating from high school is an important milestone for every young adult, but for some, the path to graduating is filled with obstacles, like homelessness, violence in their communities, or even exploitation.

Despite these challenges, young women in AFG’s programs get the help and resources they need to walk across the stage with their peers. We are happy to report that for the 16th year in a row, 100% of the high school seniors in our Prevention Program will be doing just that!

This spring, we will be sharing the stories of the young women at AFG who are graduating and beginning the next chapter in their lives. Below is the first story of a young woman determined to succeed.

A Different Path

Meet Tarra. Tarra is 20 years old, currently a resident in AFG’s Shelter, and will be receiving her high school diploma this June. “I was supposed to graduate in 2014, but I did not. I was influenced by the wrong people and I decided that school was not as important at that time, so I didn’t go. But now I’m ready.”

Tarra has been at AFG’s Shelter for a little over a month, and since then, she has been focusing on finishing her high school classes at a nearby charter school so she can finally receive her diploma. “[AFG] provided me with the motivation to want to get up and go to school every day,” Tarra shares, smiling. “High school has been really fun! It’s motivated me to want to graduate, and to get a job.”

A Bright Future

After she graduates, Tarra plans to attend a local community college and become a nurse. “I might be an RN or a traveling nurse – you get to travel to different cities or states where hospitals need nurses,” she explains. Until then, Tarra can’t wait to receive the diploma she worked so hard for, “[I’m looking forward to] grabbing that diploma, seeing my friends and family, and finally getting it done!” she exclaims.

“Pedal For A Purpose” Raises Funds and Awareness for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Jun. 30 2015 | Tags: , , ,

All across the nation, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) is leading a project to facilitate inter-agency collaboration and services supporting homeless youth. In 2014, NAEHYC conducted a needs assessment of youth experiencing homelessness right here in Detroit. The assessment surveyed youth between the ages of 16 and 24 and found that the top three barriers they were facing were access to transportation, clothing, and jobs. In response to the survey and its results, NAEHYC organized a task force to address issues faced by homeless youth, known as the Detroit Task Force on Youth Homelessness.

The Task Force has members from a wide range of programs and services for youth, including schools, youth agencies, homeless coalitions, law enforcement, public policy makers, and many others, who are led by youth from the community. “The Task Force’s main goals are to bridge the gap between the three main barriers youth face and to spread awareness within the community. We try to bring everyone together at the table to provide resources, initiatives, and local policy at a grassroots level to respond the needs of the youth,” Courtney Smith, Detroit Youth Task Force Coordinator and AFG Youth Board Member, explained.

On June 13, the Task Force held “Pedal For A Purpose” to raise funds and awareness around the top barrier faced by youth experiencing homelessness: transportation. The day started with 15 Eastern Michigan University students, alumni, and Ypsilanti locals biking from Ypsilanti to Detroit. After the 40-mile bike ride, the bikers concluded their journey at a community event held here at Alternatives For Girls! Approximately 60 people attended the community-wide awareness event, which include a youth panel discussion facilitated by Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, a speech about youth homelessness in the community from Judge Perkins, and a screening of the film “The Homestretch”.

“A big highlight from the event was the youth panel. What better way to speak about the needs of youth than with the youth themselves? They are the experts in their own lives. Watching the young people come together and have the courage to share their lives with strangers, it was really touching,” Courtney shared. Following the panel, Judge Perkins spoke the importance of supporting young people within the community, through mentorship, and also stressed the importance of not let youth in need fall by the wayside. Finally, the documentary “The Homestretch”, which follows three homeless teens as they fight to stay in school, graduate, and build a future, was screened. “One young woman shared that the film opened her eyes to things she didn’t even know existed,” Courtney shared.

So far, the event has raised over $1,000 to support access to transportation for homeless youth. “The money raised will go towards providing bikes and transportation options to homeless youth. Because of the conversations we had with services providers and the popularity of bikes in Detroit, we decided to focus on donating bikes, but it really depends on what the service providers needs are,” Courtney explained.

“It was so great to see youth and older people come together for a common cause. There was a lot going on June 13 and for people to come together to raise awareness, it was great and very heartwarming to see that,” Courtney shared. “And we are very thankful that AFG was able to help and host the event. Being an AFG youth board member, it was an honor to be able to help in this way.”

Be sure to follow the Task Force and like them on Facebook to stay up-to-date on their events. If you would like more information or have any questions, contact Patricia Julianelle, NAEHCY’s Director of State Projects and Legal Affairs, at or Courtney Smith, Detroit Youth Task Force Coordinator, at

Expressive Arts Group Helps Relieve Stress

Dec. 22 2014 | Tags: ,

Last winter, the Shelter Department created the Expressive Arts Group, an optional group that meets three Fridays a month and allows the Shelter residents an opportunity to explore their feelings through art.

The idea for the group started after Erika Fox, the Shelter Department’s Counseling Curriculum Coordinator, and her co-worker attended a training on Trauma Intervention. During the training, they learned ways to work with those who have experienced trauma in their lives. “A key element of working with youth who have experienced trauma is focusing on activities that will allow them to express themselves without words. Because when you experience trauma you have trouble accessing your ability to talk about your emotions, art allows you to express your feelings without having to talk about it or explain it,” Erika explained.

The main goals of the group are to relieve stress, allow the young women to express emotions in a safe space, and to build confidence through the act of creating something. Ciara*, one of the Shelter residents who regularly attends the group, has learned firsthand how helpful art can be in expressing and understanding her feelings, “What I like about the Expressive Arts group is that I can express myself with art instead of lashing out when I’m angry,” she shared. Click here to read more.

Since its inception, the group has focused on visual art, especially collages. “We’ve done a lot of collages and those have gone well because they aren’t intimidating for the youth. Since you do not need a lot of artistic talent, it’s a safe way to express yourself without feeling overwhelmed,” Erika explained. In the future, they are planning to do projects based around music, poetry, and even jewelry making. The young women who have attended the groups have really enjoyed the freedom the art projects have given them. Erika shared, “Sometimes it can be hard to get them to participate initially, but once they come they want to keep coming. They respond well to the groups and are really excited about what they create.”

*This name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Project Giving Tree Spreads Holiday Cheer

Dec. 22 2014 | Tags: , , , ,

This month, between the holiday decorations, multiple visits from Santa Claus, and gifts for hundreds of our participants from dozens of generous donors, the halls of Alternatives For Girls have been looking a lot like the North Pole. December has been a month of celebration and happiness, thanks to our holiday giving program, Project Giving Tree (PGT), and the multiple holiday parties thrown by the programs at AFG. Because a vast majority of the girls and women in our programs celebrate Christmas, we do host several holiday parties which include Christmas activities. However, throughout the month, other traditions are also celebrated in various ways.

Each year, as a part of PGT, the girls and young women of AFG create a wish list that includes items they are in need of that year. The wish lists include items such as clothing, winter boots, coats, scarves, and gloves, as well as fun items such as books and board games. Once the wish lists are filled out, they are then “adopted” by businesses, organizations, local churches, and individual supporters. This year, our generous PGT donors fulfilled over 300 wish lists, as well as additional items for dozens of families!

“Project Giving Tree is significant for our program participants because it provides them with holiday items. Sometimes a coat, a pair of boots or even a much desired toy can light up their faces,” Melody Moore, AFG Volunteer Services Manager explains. “It’s another way for us to demonstrate our love for them. With the help of so many supporters who adopt wish lists, they help to make this possible and add smiles onto the faces of our program participants.”

The gifts collected during PGT are given to the girls at each program’s holiday party throughout the month of December. The Shelter party included both current and past residents and their families. The festive party was complete with a DJ playing holiday music, a delicious dinner, and candy favors for everyone, including the children of the young women.

The highlight of the event was a visit from St. Nick himself! All of the children were thrilled to meet him and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. After getting her picture taken with Santa, one young girl shared what she asked for, “I told him I want a doll!” she exclaimed.

After Santa left, some of the young women preformed beautiful renditions of holiday hits such as “O Holy Night” and “All I Want For Christmas is You”. Their beautiful voices could be heard all throughout the building! Finally, over 30 girls received gifts from PGT and spent the rest of the evening spending time with loved ones.

Outreach held three separate parties for their Safe Choices, New Choices, and Peer Education programs. While Prevention held its annual craft fair, during which the youth create holiday crafts and receive their PGT gifts, and a separate family party, which allowed two dozen families to eat a delicious dinner together and receive gifts for their children.

AFG would like to thank each and every person who participated in Project Giving Tree this year, as well as the wonderful volunteers and sponsors who made all of our holiday parties possible!

AFG Blog: “I can finally begin focusing on myself…”

Dec. 1 2014 | Tags: , ,

Shelter resident, Natashia*, gave the following speech at a recent event for AFG. This is her story, in her own words:  

My name is Natashia* and I am 19 years old. To be an independent young woman nowadays is very unique to me. Normally, you see a lot of women who are very dependent on their other half, which isn’t too healthy. I was living in an apartment with my boyfriend and another roommate. Our roommate didn’t pay her portion of the rent, and so we were evicted. My parents basically disregarded me, and so their home is not welcome to me. As for friends, I choose not to have many because of distractions, so for the few that I do have, they’re all going through something and I don’t need the added stress of their problems as well as my own. My boyfriend and I began living from place to place and eventually ended up living in a storage unit. During this time, I had a job but I didn’t have any transportation so I was walking one and a half hours to work each direction, sometimes in the dark. I went wrong moving in with my boyfriend too soon, and even though he had (or so it seemed), all of his stuff together, as humans, we tend to forget that any situation or circumstance isn’t certain; it can change in an instant as my life recently did.

A few weeks ago, I felt like I had completely lost almost all control I had over my life and the events that took place in it. I wanted to just lay down somewhere and give up. But my conscious mind told me that giving up doesn’t solve any problem; it never has and it never will. So I kept pushing through. Then I was referred to AFG by my boyfriend’s mother. Boy, that was the last thing I wanted to do. My perception of a shelter was twisted and so I didn’t see any way that just having a bed for a few hours could help me get my life together. Imagine my surprise once I arrived! Alternatives For Girls is nothing like I could have ever imagined, and in a few days I was finally able to relax and clear my head.

Last week, I was accepted to the Transition to Independent Living Program at AFG! This program will be beneficial towards helping me reach that stability that I’ve somehow lost in my life. I can finally begin focusing on myself and what I really want to accomplish. I want to get back in school and take up psychology and marketing. I want to someday help others and give them the chance to straighten out their problems and reach the goals that they once thought impossible, just as AFG has so far done for me. All of the one and a half hour walks to work and back, the studying at the library, the stress and hardships that I have and may have to continue facing in the future will only make my success that much more to be proud of.

My short-term goals consist of me getting a job and enrolling in school so that I can set the course for my 2-year goal, which is where I would like to have a stable, good job, a better relationship with family and friends, and to have a clear view of how I want my life to go from there on. I have the motivation and the drive to get to where I need to go and I feel like the AFG program is my set of keys.

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Community Dinner Focuses on Relationship Building Between Staff and Participants

Jul. 30 2014 | Tags: ,

This year, our Shelter Department began holding a new event called Community Dinner. The dinners are a new addition to Community Group, a mandatory, therapeutic group that meets every Thursday and uses adventure therapy to give participants a space for meaningful dialog on topics such as healthy relationships, communication, and conflict resolution. Community Group has created a positive space for young women to share and grow together, but there was a need for a different type of event, which would allow staff and residents to bond on a more personal level. As a result, Community Dinner was formed.

Community Dinner occurs the last Thursday of every other month during the time that Community Group usually occurs. The dinners began with the goal of allowing staff and residents to build rapport in a more low-key environment. Each dinner includes a theme, a dinner for residents and staff, fun activities, and a time for residents to be recognized for their accomplishments.  So far, there have been three dinners: a karaoke night, an obstacle course, and the most recent dinner, a casino night. “A lot of what we do as staff is focused on jobs, school, and holding the girls accountable for things they need to do. So this is a time to build connections and trust in a more fun environment and a place where we recognize their accomplishments as well,” Erika Fox, Counseling Curriculum Coordinator, explains.

Shelter staff members encourage residents to participate in the dinners by allowing them to take an active role in planning each dinner. “They plan the activities and theme for each dinner. So, they plan activities, they brainstorm to come up with a theme and the food that they want and then they come up with tasks for preparing for the dinner,” Erika shares. The dinners are also a way for residents to build confidence in planning and executing something, communication skills, and a sense of community. “They are learning that it’s okay if we don’t always get along but we still need to learn how to work together as a team to accomplish our goals. These are all topics that we focus on in Community Group, as well,” Erika adds.

Heather, a current shelter resident, has attended two of the dinners so far and has really enjoyed the experience. “The food is great, it seems like it is really prepared with a lot of love. I like that we are all able to be together having fun, laughing, and having a positive time,” she answers when asked what her favorite part of the dinners is. “We all put a lot of hard work into it so it’s nice to enjoy all of the hard work we did,” Heather adds. So far, after only three meetings, Community Dinner has already started to have an impact on the environment in the Shelter, according to Heather. “It’s way more comfortable now and it brings us together and allows positivity”, Heather shares. “It allows us to come together and forget everything else that’s going on. I think it’s great”. As for the next dinner, Heather says there is already excitement building for what is to come, “I heard rumors that it’s going to be Hawaiian themed,” Heather smiles.

Participants Share Their Graduation Stories

May. 29 2014 | Tags: , , ,

It is graduation season for our high school seniors so we sat down with a few participants to talk about their high school experiences. Of course, each path to graduation is different. Each of our girls has a different story; each had her own struggles and her own accomplishments. These are some of their stories.


“English is my favorite subject because I get to learn about all of the different stuff that has happened by reading the plays, like Hamlet”, Brittany shares. Brittany is a Peer Educator (PE) in AFG’s Outreach and Education Services Department. An honor roll student, Brittany says she will miss her peers now that high school is over but is looking forward to finding a job and getting her own car.

Although Brittany worked hard to get good grades throughout high school, she admits that there were times she struggled in doing just that. “The work is (typically) easy, but at times it can be challenging. Some of the classes I got, like accounting, were hard”, Brittany recalls. Through these difficult times, Brittany says that her coordinators and fellow PE’s played a role in keeping her moving forward, “They motivate you to stay in school and make sure you’re on the right track”.

Brittany has succeeded despite these hard times and is proud of herself for being an honor roll student and getting good grades. After she graduates, Brittany has plans to pursue a career as a Pediatrician by studying at Wayne County Community College and Wayne State University. As for the incoming freshmen who will be starting high school next year, Brittany has some words of wisdom for them, “It’s a good experience. You learn a lot about friends, school, work, and boys”.


Taija is a Shelter Aftercare participant who is also attending the Transition to Independent Living (TIL) classes here at AFG.  As a senior getting prepared to graduate, Taija says her favorite class is Personal Finance and the thing she will miss most about high school is learning.

Taija’s path to graduation included becoming pregnant with her daughter. “When I was younger I didn’t get great grades, since I’ve been a senior I’ve been making better grades. I think my daughter has motivated me”, Taija explains. “When she grows up, I want her to get good grades in school. I don’t want her to do bad like I did”, she continues. While pregnant, Taija was a resident in AFG’s shelter and was determined to keep school a priority, taking the bus to get there and back every day.  

Since leaving the shelter, Taija has continued participating in AFG programming by joining the TIL classes. “I joined the TIL group because there was more I could benefit from, like scholarships”, Taija shares. After she graduates, Taija is currently deciding between attending a trade school to become a nurse’s assistant or joining the National Guard. “The National Guard can help you with your life, you have to get up every morning and be dedicated. I think I can do that”, she explains. In addition to her future career plans, Taija is looking forward to getting an apartment, a new job, and taking care of her daughter on her own.

Alternatives For Girls is proud of all of the graduates and wishes them the best of luck in all of their future endeavors!

AFG Heads to Lansing to Advocate for Homeless and Runaway Youth

May. 28 2014 | Tags: , , , ,

For the third year in a row, Alternatives For Girls staff and participants traveled to the state capitol to speak with State Representatives and build awareness of runaway and homeless youth. Every year the Michigan Network for Youth and Families (MNYF) organizes Dome Day, a day for organizations to set up shop in the Capitol, have meetings with State Legislators, bring awareness to the needs of runaway and homeless youth in Michigan, and convince them the importance of thinking of these youth when voting on the next budget. Although AFG staff planned on attending Dome Day on March 12th, along with other youth-focused agencies, the Outreach and Education Services (OES) and Shelter/Transition to Independent Living (TIL) staff were unable to attend due to inclement weather.

Undeterred from their original goal, OES and Shelter/TIL staff made arrangements with MNYF to schedule 7 to 8 meetings with State Legislators on April 30th. “Our main goal was to convey to the Legislators that although funding for runaway and homeless youth is currently tied in with the Foster Care system, because they have some similarities, there really needs to be separate funding because both groups are so unique”, explains Deena Policicchio, AFG’s Outreach and Education Services Director. According to Deena, this funding has not increased at the rate of cost of living. “In addition, we also wanted to connect the link between sex trafficking, which is on everyone’s mind right now, and homeless and runaway youth. Because homeless and runaway youth are some of the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, they really need to be focused on when creating legislation and allocating funds”, Deena explains.

Along with one current Shelter resident, Deena was joined by Lynzi Tarango, Shelter Case Planner, and Nkenge Burkhead, OES Youth Street Outreach Coordinator. Throughout the day, they met with staff from the offices of Representative Farris, Representative Lafontaine, plus others, and had an in person meeting with Representative Coleman A. Young. “One of the highlights of the day was getting the chance to meet with the Representatives. They were very interested and attentive to what we had to say”, Lynzi shares. The importance of the day was not lost on Raven, a current Shelter resident, who told Lynzi she didn’t realize how big of a deal it was that they had this opportunity until they got there. Lynzi explained, “Raven shared her experience of being homeless as well as her experiences since being here at AFG. She did a great job answering questions and advocating for homeless and runaway youth”.