From the beginning, a beacon of hope. In 1942, we began as an orphanage when the Rochester Catholic Diocese closed its homes for orphans, leaving over 100 children needing placement. Promising these kids, “We will take care of you,” the Sisters of St. Joseph accompanied the children, clutching their few belongings, and boarded city buses to 5 new cottages in Greece known today as Villa of Hope.
Over the years, the Villa has risen to meet the needs of the community time and time again. Caring for increasing numbers of young people whose lives were impacted by abuse, poverty and family histories of mental illness and drug problems, the Villa evolved into a leader in behavioral health, mental health, substance abuse treatment and trauma-informed care for youth. Over the years, tens of thousands of local youth and families have been helped.
Meet Shalinda. Her childhood was filled with hardship. In an environment surrounded by gang activity, trauma, neglect and poverty, every day was clouded by worry. Due to extenuating circumstances, she had no choice but to take care of an entire household, younger siblings and her mother, and then, at the age of 12, was herself a pre-teen Mom with a daughter of her own.
Exhausted under the weight of her responsibilities, she began to miss school. Her story could have ended there, except for the miracle of two elements coming together at once: she became involved with Rochester’s Teen Empowerment, and she was placed into the Villa of Hope residential program.
“When Shalinda first came to us in early 2016, we recognized her connection to her community, and Teen Empowerment, and we moved heaven and earth to make sure she made it to meetings, and ultimately, to her job there as a Youth Organizer,” says Jane DeRue, Senior Intake Social Worker with the Villa.
She at first lived on the Villa campus, and attended the Campus School; and her progress was so impressive that within 6 months, she moved into the Villa’s Stone Ridge group home, and began attending Rochester Early College International High School.
Within the safety of the Villa, Shalinda found who she truly was, and found her voice. Where she was headed was markedly different from the world she had come from. Completing her education – for herself and her daughter – and making a difference in the world became her goal. She began moving decidedly, confidently, and purposefully forward; and doesn’t look back.
Villa staff still transport her each day to her job, and her work there has taken her to speaking engagements with the Rochester Police Department, the Mayor’s office, City Council, and area churches, to cover a range of topics from how to speak with youth, to anti-bullying education. She is an accomplished writer and poet, and an activist who someday wants to advocate for youth in the court systems. She will hopefully graduate this year from Rochester Early College, and plans to attend MCC to study Psychology and African American Studies.
“Shalinda is not the result of the bad things that have happened to her,” says Jane, “but of the grace that has followed.”
Today, 75 years of solid commitment to youth and families has established the Villa as a leader in trauma-informed care. And we will continue for the next 75, and beyond, with your help.
What your donation can do for a Villa youth:
$100 will help to support an opportunity for 2 youth to attend dinner plus a fun event of their choice. Events may include a movie, Amerks or Red Wings game, Seabreeze, Altitude, Glow Gulf, bowling, Memorial Art Gallery, Science Museum, Geva Theatre, etc. Many of our youth have never had these opportunities and we strive to provide normal, age-appropriate experiences for our youth in a safe environment.
$250 helps us offer hands-on career exploration opportunities to youth at Villa of Hope. Program activities will help youth pursue their special interest, gain practical, real-world career experiences and insight, stimulate interest in education beyond high school and cultivate meaningful relationships between adults and youth. The program will collaborate with community and corporate partners and focus on: leadership experiences, life skills, citizenship, and character education. Career fields include, but are not limited to: Business, Engineering and Technology, Fire and EMS, Health, Law Enforcement, Science, Skilled Trades, and Social Services.
$500 helps to sponsor Horticulture programming for one youth at the Villa. Gardening reduces stress, calms nerves and improves mood. The Horticulture program at the Villa provides our youth with the opportunity to connect to the natural environment, prepare for the moment and plan for the future. Youth are taught how to plant and design gardens, maintain and fertilize gardens, the fundamentals of plant care, and when and how to harvest food. As Michael, a participant from our LIFE program said, “This is an acceptable alternative to drugs for me. It’s peaceful and keeps me calm. I know that if I can grow my own food I’ll never go hungry. I feel pretty good about that.”