Winner of the 2008 Youth Worker of the Year Award
1 What does your job entail?
(We help) teens 16 to 17 years old prepare to live on their own. We getthem into high school or the GED program, work with them on life skills: how to do set up a budget, how to fill out applications and how to properly dress for an interview. As a youth care worker, I may take them to school or work, take them to get their IDs or Social Security cards. Then they can get set up for school and apply for jobs. We try to offer them an environment as close as possible to a real 'home.' We know that, in most cases, we are all they have. Apart from all the paperwork, I basically do what any mom would do for her kids.
2 What's the biggest obstacle facing homeless or runaway youth?
It is hard to be 18 and told that you have to get an apartment and be on your own, with no support system. They do not have furniture or other items needed to set up an apartment. Many runaways do not have a job or money.
3 What drives or inspires you in your work?
What keeps me working with youth is knowing that I have helped many to make good choices in their life and they have become independent young adults. When I meet former clients years later and they tell me that thanks to the shelter, their lives are back on track.
4 What words of advice do you give to these kids?
When they ask for your help, give them choices and explain the consequences of each choice. Attempt to teach them to be responsible or just show you care about them.
5 Tell us about the most fulfilling moment you've had on the job?
An example is a young man who graduated from high school and left (home) at 18. He lived from friend to friend, on their couches or on their floors. He came by the program and I was able to give him some referrals and information on (St. Petersburg College). He was thankful for the help. About two years ago, he came back to see me. He has his own apartment, his own car and is now a paralegal.
Nearly 900 children in Pinellas County don't have a home to call their own. Often, they're running away from abusive households or are following in the footsteps of homeless parents. Shari M. McPeek works with some of these teens through the transitional living program at Family Resources Inc. in Pinellas Park. Last week, McPeek was named the 2008 youth worker of the year by the National Network for Youth in Washington, D.C. McPeek was honored for her outstanding contributions to youth in Pinellas County.