'Young & Homeless' campaign a cause for the community

Jan 31 2014 - 8:59pm

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Last fall Standard-Examiner Publisher Charles Horton III challenged his staff to come up with a cause the newspaper could get the community to rally around in 2014 with news coverage, marketing efforts and charitable donations.

I immediately thought of the traditional issues newspapers promote.

There was open government. But this isn't an issue that stimulates the public to volunteer for, or contribute to. Besides, this should be a cause we foster 24 hours a day, 365 days of every year.

Then there was literacy. However, this cause seems to be routine for news organizations and schools already do a great deal in this arena.

There is always the United Way. Two years ago, columnists Charles Trentelman and Mark Saal spearheaded a dueling campaign around the agency's annual fundraising efforts. But that was mostly driven by the personalities of Charlie, who has since retired, and Mark.

We wanted something that the whole newspaper could get behind, as well as generating community support.

Then reporter JaNae Francis did a story that focused on a narrow issue that illustrated just how much of a positive impact the Standard-Examiner can have.

Her December story focused on the overwhelming community response to an earlier story on the need for donations for homeless runaways. Coordinators of the effort credited the coverage for the truckloads of donations they received.

We had found our issue.

Earlier this month, we invited some youth advocates to lunch to outline our plans and to get their input. Attending were Marian Edmonds Allen, executive director of OUTreach Resource Centers; Laura Warburton, a local volunteer, and state Rep. Gage Froerer. We kept it to a small group to help facilitate discussion. They all loved the idea.

And the "Young & Homeless" initiative for 2014 was born.

The campaign has a simple goal: To raise awareness of the issue and spur the community to action to help eliminate homelessness among children.

We decided to focus on homeless children rather than homelessness in general because of the gaps that exist in addressing children specifically. There are some barriers that hinder helping homeless juveniles as opposed to homeless adults. For instance, many homeless shelters can't take in juveniles overnight. So there are some unique issues facing the young and homeless.

The campaign will be coordinated by the newspaper's marketing department and newsroom. The marketing department will spearhead the promotional awareness and fundraising efforts. While the newsroom will provide news coverage throughout the year on the issue and the community efforts. JaNae will be the lead reporter covering the stories, while Julie Paulson will be heading up the marketing campaign detailed by JaNae in a story today.

To approach coverage of the issue we have divided the focus into three areas:

* Runaways - The reasons juveniles leave home. This could involve abuse at home, mental illness of the child, or substance abuse.

* Rejection - The reasons juveniles may be kicked out of home and have to live on the streets. This could involve lifestyle issues, sexual orientation or substance abuse.

* Families - The causes and issues surrounding homeless children and families.

We plan to expand our reach through the schools, state agencies and other charities that have a role in helping homeless children.

But a key ingredient to this campaign's success is you.

We hope through our efforts we can stimulate people to make donations and volunteer to help combat this problem. The newspaper plans to match each community donation with its own donation up to $10,000. At the end of the year, we will construct a board composed of community youth advocates to determine how the funds will be distributed.

Judging from the reaction to JaNae's story on the need for donations last year, we have a lot of faith in our readers, and the generosity of the community.

Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or ahowell@standard.net.

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