MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- One Marin-based nonprofit strives to address the county's growing number of homeless teens and young adults ages 16 to 25. Founder Zara Babitzke describes Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity Project (AHO) as a calling of the heart.
"If I realize that everything is a gift that has been given to me, then I can be thankful and how do I show gratitude? I give back," explained Babitzke.
Her answer was AHO, a nonprofit where at-risk young adults can find the support needed to overcome their current circumstances and achieve their personal goals.
From stable housing to guidance and community connections, AHO programming seeks to provide young people with resources that parents typically provide.
The program's model is based on Babitzke's personal experience.
"In every step it's been healing for me as well since I came from a family like many of the youths, and I've been homeless," explained Babitzke.
Babitzke's experience informs her unique approach, cultivating trust amongst young adults served while providing services that they may not qualify for.
According to the Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity Project website, the youth at AHO typically have not been in the social service system of mental health, probation, or foster care. As a result, they would not be eligible for any help in navigating a critical life transition.
AHO steps in with compassion to address the growing trend of youth homelessness in Marin County, Greater Bay Area, and Sacramento.
"Zara really helped me to do things - to be able to get jobs and helped me make a resume for jobs, nurtured the music that I was working on," explained one AHO youth.
"When I first called Zara, I remember that I actually needed a place. I was couch surfing," explained James Hayes, the Outreach Specialist at AHO. "I was 18 at the time when I came in, and now I'm 39."
"I'm very grateful that Zara stuck in for me and went to bat for me so many times," said another AHO youth.
Zara Babitzke and AHO show no signs of slowing down in the quest for at-risk youth support.
"In a year's period, we help about 225, about 125 or so of those are ongoing youths because we don't stop for a year or two years or three years," said Babitzke. "It's about bringing the community together."
To learn more and support Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity Project, visit here.
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