HERO CENTRAL: Alternative House Saves Homeless Teens
FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA) --- Imagine being a high school student without parents, a home, or enough money to support yourself. High school graduation may seem like a distant dream.
Alternative House, a non-profit organization, helps homeless high school students find stable housing in Fairfax County.
"I have my own place. Do my own things. Go wherever I want to go to school, come back without having any harassment, any abuse," said 18-year-old Santigie Kargbo.
Kargbo came to the United States months ago from Sierra Leone, Africa. He was supposed to live with his family in Texas. But because of financial stress, he had to move in with an adult cousin in Virginia.
"Things did not work well, so I moved out."
Kargbo said he was reduced to being a live-in nanny or house boy. He did not get to enroll in the local public school. He realized his education was a top priority.
"That's why I never want to do bad stuff. I don't want things to go wrong with me, and I focus on my education," he said.
When he enrolled in a public high school in Falls Church, the school social worker realized he was homeless.
Kargbo was referred to Alternative House and placed in the Homeless Youth Initiative. The program puts homeless teens into stable housing.
Kargbo now shares a house with three roommates. He is a junior at J.E.B. Stuart High School.
"My roommates usually ask me about my education. How I go about my education, and I know that they care about me because I am the youngest one in the house."
The rent is partly subsidized by Alternative House. Kargbo pays $150 a month with the money he earns while working part-time at SEARS. Kargbo said his manager cares about him greatly, and even gives him more hours to work.
In 2011 the Homeless Youth Initiative helped 17 high school students earn their diplomas. All of them went onto higher education, according to Judith Dittman, the Executive Director of Alternative House.
"It's just been phenomenally successful. It takes kids who would probably have to drop out of school to feed themselves and gets them the high school diploma and the support they need to go on to higher education and employment," Dittman said.
In Africa Kargbo says he was a competitive soccer player. Now with a stable living situation, he has big plans for the next chapter in his life.
"Education is my destiny. And I want to become a lawyer."