New program aims to turn the once-homeless into leaders
That's the basic idea behind a new program launched this fall by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH). Dubbed "Granite Leaders," the six-month educational program aims to teach homeless and formerly homeless people leadership skills that will enable them to advocate on issues affecting the community. The program, which will run from Nov. 14 through next April, is funded by the New Hampshire Housing and Finance Authority.
Through the free program, these future Granite Leaders will connect with local, state and national leaders to become part of a network of skilled advocates focused on improving the quality of life in homeless communities across New Hampshire.
The NHCEH has received more than 20 applications. The only requirement to participate was that applicants must have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
"We're looking to empower people who have experienced homelessness to find their voice, to be better advocates for themselves and the homeless population," said Michele Talwani, director of economic development and marketing at Families in Transition in Manchester and Concord, which works closely with the NHCEH.
Chrissy Simonds of Manchester applied to the Granite Leaders program. Simonds said she and her infant son became homeless a few years ago because of problems where she lived.
"I want to learn how to tell my story, and how to help others tell theirs, to change the way homeless people are perceived," said Simonds. "Not everyone who is homeless uses drugs or are alcoholics. Some people choose to leave bad situations for their own safety or the safety of their kids, like I did."
Simonds said she has offered testimony at the State House on the need for funds and services for the homeless, and she recently wrote a blog entry on the same topic.
"I'm hoping to learn skills that will help me continue doing this in a professional manner," said Simonds. "I want to become a better public speaker and writer and learn how to connect with a wider range of people to become a better advocate. Everyone who has experienced homelessness has an important story to tell, and I want to learn how to help them."