Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.
The underlying theme of this year’s third annual H.O.P.E. for the Holidays event was homelessness is not a choice.
Kelly Robson, director of the Help of Southern Nevada Youth Center, said if teenagers leave home to get away from a bad situation, it’s not their choice to become homeless.
“They’re grateful for anything, because one of the hardest things for youths is to be thrown aside,” Robson said.
A fundraiser was held at the Henderson Pavilion Promenade on Saturday with donations and proceeds going to five local organizations that provide resources and housing for homeless teenagers.
Event chair Judy Alewel said last year’s event raised $29,000. She said with today's sour economy, she will be happy to reach that amount again.
“Whatever we make, we will be grateful for anything that is donated,” Alewel said. “The teens want to feel normal and we want to go that extra step and help them feel normal.”
Alewel said more than 4,000 teenagers are living on the streets in Las Vegas. She said it’s important for the Help of Southern Nevada Youth Center, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Street Teens, Living Grace Home and Clark County School District Title 1 Hope to work together and provide the best services possible for each person.
Jazmyn Akins, 18, is a resident at the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. She said the organization helped her get into college and pursue her dreams of becoming a commercial photographer and actress.
“My father had a gambling problem and sold our house,” Akins said. “I was living with my neighbors, and I didn’t even know them.”
Akins said her mother works in North Carolina as a teacher and contacted the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth after Akins was "couchsurfing" for a couple of months.
“They put me in a condo with a housemate and take us grocery shopping every two weeks,” Akins said. “My roommate is in high school and the organization makes sure she leads an actual high school life.”
Nancy Amaya, 19, was in a similar situation before she graduated from high school. She said the Help of Southern Nevada Youth Center took her in because her family wasn’t stable enough to care for her.
“They helped me graduate high school, and I was voted class clown and prom royalty,” Amaya said, smiling.
According to H.O.P.E. statistics, 80 percent of homeless teenagers would like to be able to finish high school. The majority of homeless teenagers living in Las Vegas are 16 years old.
Sariah Johnson, 20, said homeless teens should utilize services offered to them. She said walking into the Help of Southern Nevada Youth Center felt like having a clean slate.
“I grew up in a drug neighborhood,” Johnson said. “Life is about choices and you have the opportunity to have better if you want better.”
The event also featured games, a silent auction, train rides, face painting, hair dying and live entertainment by local bands and singer and impressionist Tom Stevens.
Stevens performs impressions at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and served as the moderator at the event. He said he wanted to participate because it brings awareness to the community.
“I wasn’t aware this many were homeless,” Stevens said. “I have been fortunate enough in my life and it touches me to know that kids out here are living on the streets.”
Quin White, 23, lead singer of the band Amarionette, said he wanted to be involved because the issue of homelessness is often neglected. The band dedicated a song called “Apart From the Same” to all the homeless teenagers.
“It’s a song about being different and not feeling like you’re like everyone else,” White said. “No one is better than anyone else, and these kids are like everyone else."