NSPN Announces 2020 Award Recipients

National Safe Place Network (NSPN) recognized several individuals, organizations and businesses during its 2020 national awards ceremony on August 18th and 19th at Focus 2020.

“We are honored to celebrate youth service professionals, volunteers, advocates, and community partners who have made a positive difference in the lives of youth and families,” said Laurie Jackson, President/CEO of NSPN. “The 2020 NSPN Award recipients have contributed their time, money, expertise, and voices to ensure youth safety and for that, we are grateful.”

NSPN is proud to recognize the following 2020 NSPN Award winners:

Model Program Award
This award recognizes agencies that have developed creative and innovative ways to improve service delivery to youth and their families. NSPN is thrilled to celebrate Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) Food Services Program.

Fresno EOC’s Food Services program, in operation for over 30 years, produces 7,000 nutritious meals daily that are distributed to pre-school children, youth and young adults, seniors and other organizations throughout four counties in the Central Valley of California. One of the projects they operate is the Summer Food Service Program. In Fresno County, 111,000 children (60%) suffer from food insecurity (California Food Policy Advocates, 2019 Factsheet). In 2017, Food Services piloted a mobile Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) focusing on feeding disconnected youth in Fresno’s community’s Motel Drive. During the pilot, they encountered a number of struggles. They were setting up and packing in vans tables, pop up tents (it is regularly over 100 degrees in the summer) in several locations and it was taking lots of time. In addition, the Food Service staff was not equipped to address the number of non-food related issues and questions from the families. Sanctuary and Support Services, focused on youth homelessness, joined forces to help. Both programs were mission-driven, one focusing on hunger, one focusing on homelessness. Together, during the summer and winter break pilots, over 4,000 meals were served to kids. After the success of the pilot, Fresno EOC launched a campaign to raise funds to purchase a retired school bus and retrofit to serve meals to youth on the bus. The community raised over $100,000 towards this project. The Food Express Bus also became a mobile Safe Place site in the event a youth in crisis is identified during their route. Staff have been trained and work together to connect youth to Sanctuary’s services. As the bus gears up for each new serving period, routes are changed to serve even more youth. In April 2020, this project was modified to respond to COVID-19. The bus ended up being the ideal vehicle to get meals and resources to the community. It holds enough meals and staff to efficiently deploy food into our community. Its colorful design and bright exterior attract the attention and help the community identify the distribution locations. During summer and winter routes, the Food Express Bus serves an average of 60 meals per day. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food Express Bus began serving meals on April 6th and has served nearly 16,500 grab-and-go meals in the first five days.

“We’re excited to be recognized for our Food Express Bus –
feeding kids all around Fresno County and a mobile Safe Place for youth in crisis.”

Watch the Fresno EOC acceptance speech.
Access a transcript of the speech.

Helping Hands Award
With limited resources, volunteers are often the unsung heroes of youth service organizations and are crucial to daily operations. This award recognizes an individual or group of volunteers who go above and beyond the call of duty. NSPN's 2020 Helping Hands Award goes to Isaiah Duncan.

Isaiah entered the Y-NOW Mentoring Program in 2014 as a mentee. He actively participated in all group meetings and had a wonderful relationship with his mentor. Isaiah graduated from the program in 2015 and was recruited to become a Youth Leader. As a youth leader, Isaiah transitioned from a mentee to leading the activities of new mentees at their opening retreat and throughout the year at the group meetings. Isaiah excelled in this role. He made quick connections with the youth and encouraged their participation in activities. Isaiah served as a Youth Leader for years until the Y-NOW staff promoted him to Youth Leader Manager where he manages all Youth Leaders. Isaiah is an integral element of the Y-NOW program. His leadership in the course room and individually with the youth has led to more active participation from the youth in the program. Isaiah is an A-B high school student with perfect behavior in and out of school.

“First and foremost [with Y-NOW] I am able to get in front of youth
and be that helping hand for youth, and make sure a youth’s day’s
better even when mine is not. That’s why I love volunteering and
that’s what’s going to keep me coming back to volunteering.”

Watch Isaiah's acceptance speech.
Access a transcript of the speech.

Safe Place
® Coordinator of the Year Award
This award recognizes the Coordinator who provides quality Safe Place program management and does so without expecting recognition for their invaluable efforts. NSPN is proud to recognize Chuck Paul as the 2020 Safe Place Coordinator of the Year.

Any chance that Chuck has he takes, to talk about Safe Place and Roy Maas Youth Alternatives (RMYA) programs for children and youth. He trains children, youth, teachers, law enforcement, corporations, and medical professionals on how to identify human trafficking and how Safe Place and other RMYA programs can help. From the smallest social club or classroom, to the largest hospitals, corporations, San Antonio VIA Metropolitan Transit police, and the San Antonio International Airport, Chuck has shared the stories and statistics of runaway, homeless, abused and exploited children while training our community in how to recognize and report suspected trafficking, child abuse, runaways and street youth. He is also a member of the Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking and other committees and workgroups comprised of agencies, law enforcement and local government officials working to reduce and ultimately eliminate trafficking and youth homelessness in Texas; his participation in these groups is another way to make sure service providers are aware of Safe Place. Even though most agencies have stopped outreach during this difficult time (COVID-19 pandemic), Chuck continues to train first responders through online presentations. Since October of 2018 when RMYA became a licensed Safe Place agency, he has given over 200 presentations and talked to over 13,000 children, youth and adults in our community about Safe Place.

"The butterfly mural behind me represents a new beginning.
That new beginning might take 4, 5 or 7 times, because many
young people we encounter don’t leave the streets the first time
they come to us. But every single time young people leave us,
they know that yellow and black sign outside says Safe Place,
and they can come back, or go to one of our community partners, and find help.”

Watch Chuck's acceptance speech.
Access a transcript of the speech.

Community Involvement Award
This award recognizes a business, serving as a community partner, which has consistently gone above and beyond the expectations of a local program. The 2020 Community Involvement Award goes to Bank of America.

Bank of America (BoA) is a superior example of intentional and tangible community involvement. The office located in Knoxville, Tennessee focuses on more than financial contributions. The BoA team demonstrates an ongoing commitment to capacity building and sustainability for non-profit partners by hosting ongoing partner meetings among all non-profits receiving BoA contributions. BoA also supports youth involvement via internship and volunteer opportunities in addition to the employee volunteer initiatives which emphasize employee participation in activities aligned with each employee’s interest.  BoA also distributes free access to ongoing learning opportunities to build the knowledge base for staff. BoA has contributed to the support of the TXT 4 HELP initiative of National Safe Place Network and to building opportunities to engage youth in creating youth-informed social services. In a time where so many for profit entities are scaling back support for the community, this office of Bank of America has continued to give dollars and, more importantly, compassion.

Youth in Action Award
This award recognizes a young person or a group of young people, age 24 and under, whose efforts go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of others. The 2020 Youth in Action Award goes to Eric Wolfe.

Eric has been a part of Anchor House's Youth Advisory Council since 2018. He is an active member of the Council and participated in over forty events and activities in 2019. Eric engages in volunteer activities for Anchor House including serving food at the local soup kitchen, hosting vendor tables at community events and speaking at agency events. He took part in a film project where youth and members of the local law enforcement met to discuss ways to build unity and community engagement. Eric takes part in meetings with the Safe Rest Youth Council which is a youth based committee whose mission is to end homelessness by 2020. He is eager to bring more awareness to the issues of homelessness, mental health issues, and other topics that impact youth/young adults.

"This award means so much to me. The time and energy and compassion 
that I put in my community – I do it all from the kindness of my heart.”

Watch Eric's acceptance speech.
Access a transcript of the speech.

Culture of Respect Award
This award honors those who champion the cause of justice and equality. NSPN is honored to recognize Judith Clark with the 2020 Culture of Respect Award.

Judith Clark, MPH, is the Executive Director of Hawaii Youth Services Network (HYSN), a statewide coalition of youth-serving organizations and a Pacific Islands training center. Hawaii’s ethnic mix and island geography have created a unique culture, and materials developed for other cultures are often not effective there. Clark recognizes Hawaii’s teens do not feel content is relevant to their lives when they see young people in unfamiliar settings who do not look or speak like they do. Through Ms. Clark's leadership, Hawaii Youth Services Network has involved youth in creating bullying prevention videos that are culturally relevant for Pacific Islander and Asian populations. She also applies culturally-specific context to relationship building and advocacy efforts in her community. Ms. Clark equips others in the field to identify ways in which culture and values impact service design and delivery and processes for designing or adapting programs for ethnic and cultural minorities. She encourages youth service providers to engage youth as partners in developing resources to ensure youth see themselves in media or other materials. These practices increase participation by youth from ethnic and cultural minorities.

“I know that I will never know everything about others’ cultures and I’m
always ready to learn a little more. I ask what do you need and want –
instead of assuming I know what is best for others. I believe children
and youth are a part of our communities and they need to be involved
in decisions that will affect their lives.”

Watch Judith's acceptance speech.

Executive Leadership Award
This award recognizes a leader who is consistently dedicated to staff and works hard to fulfill the mission of the youth service organization. This year's Executive Leadership Award goes to Lisa Thompson.

Lisa Thompson has been employed at Project Oz for 25 years, starting as an intern in the crisis department and quickly advancing within the agency to where she currently serves as Executive Director. Lisa's vision for where Project Oz is and where it can ultimately grow to be has never ceased and has opened up opportunities for the agency to serve thousands of young people in a variety of situations. Within the agency, Lisa is the first to advocate for her staff, always finding the best in them, and using their strengths to create a cohesive team. Lisa leads by example while motivating the team with her passion and dedication to youth. Her self-confidence radiates in the way she presents herself, but she never expects recognition for what she sees as her life’s passion—rather, she would much prefer to praise those around her for the work that they are doing and the lives they are changing. Her work ethic and the pride that she takes in doing the best job that she can do is immeasurable. Through the programs at Project Oz, and also on a personal level, Lisa works tirelessly to empower and promote equality for all. She’ll be the first to tell you that all people should be treated the same whether they are a homeless young person or a corporate executive. She is constantly seeking ways to empower women. One example is her offer to provide a copy of the women’s leadership audiobook, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, to any staff member who wanted to listen to it. Many women benefited from this forward-thinking gesture. This dedication translates outside the agency, where Lisa fosters and encourages everyone from young teens to other professional women to stand in their truth as a strong woman and “Lean In”. As a woman in leadership, Lisa exemplifies what it means to be strong yet feminine, and empowers women around her to strive for their own leadership goals and aspirations. Lisa performs under the belief that leadership and her career are not to be viewed as a ladder, but as a jungle gym. She is flexible and mobile, and willing to be inclusive to her peers rather than exclusively at the top. Lisa is aware that everyone’s strengths, by working together, will accomplish far greater success than if alone. Lisa has never let her role in executive leadership sway her from going back to her roots as a trained crisis worker. You will often find Lisa in the front lobby, speaking with youth and families about their needs and desires. Lisa will be the first one to hold a baby of a young mother filling out job applications, or provide a bottle of water to a homeless teen on a hot, summer day. Most recently, Lisa filled in as the primary on-call worker for 6 days, so that the rest of the core staff could engage in the Child and Youth Care Certification course. Her gesture of support and sacrifice allowed an entire team of 14 youth care workers to become certified.

"Responding to this pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
I hope everyone has the opportunity to take care of each other,
take care of yourself, and to get filled up
so we can take care of young people and their well-being."

Watch Lisa's acceptance speech.

Essential Voice Award
This award recognizes a journalist, media outlet, or national spokesperson(s) for their contributions to increasing awareness of the needs of youth and those who serve them. The 2020 NSPN Essential Voice Award goes to Dr. Matthew Morton.

Matthew’s history as an advocate and “truth teller” dates back to his adolescence in Florida. As a young man, he contributed to the development of a non-profit which highlighted the importance of youth voice and experience. He then shared his advocacy expertise while on staff with a regional network and worked diligently to help those who embraced adultism realize how much they were missing by hearing but not listening to the voices of youth. His advocacy and youth development efforts included extensive contributions to the National Network for Youth where he served as the Vice-Chair of the Youth Policy Council and as a member of the Board of Directors. Again, using his voice, lived experience, and knowledge he continued to make a difference. Matt took his skills and voice to Guatemala to help establish youth development programs and expertise thus helping to strengthen a culture which embraces the power and importance of youth voice. Matt completed educational tours at Stetson University and the University of Oxford. At each juncture – Matt used his voice to influence others and to emphasize the importance of youth voice and understanding the impact of systemic challenges on youth success. Now, as Principal Investigator for Voices of Youth Count (VoYC) at Chapin Hall, Dr. Matt Morton has directly engaged youth as partners to capture accurate prevalence data, understand causes and pathways into homelessness, recognize the needs of exceptionally vulnerable youth, and amplify their voices. Drawn to this work by lived experience, awareness of critical gaps in data, and belief in the power of evidence, Matt advocates in communities, states, government agencies and congressional committees for investment and policies that pave the way to ending youth homelessness. Matt has never lived in a place of self-importance or focus on demonstrating what you know to demonstrate you are better. Matt resides in a place of hope, compassion, and knowledge that backing up your voice with evidence is sometimes the best and only way to convince those most reticent to accept the need for investment and change. Matt would probably say that while he appreciates being recognized as an “essential voice” – he would want everyone to understand the importance and essential nature of using their voices to make a positive difference in our world.

Access a transcript of Dr. Morton's acceptance speech.

Together We Can
This award recognizes an individual whose attitude and actions demonstrate extraordinary passion for serving young people, commitment to professional development, and courage to engage community support. The 2020 Together We Can Award goes to Darla Bardine.

Darla Bardine is the “Together We Can” individual. She came to the National Network for Youth (NN4Y) several years ago and has worked tirelessly to connect and grow the organization. Darla is known for her tenacity in advocacy and her ability to connect with so many others to promote the most effective funding, programming, and awareness of runaway and homeless youth. Darla possesses a fierceness and determination to assure these youth are included in all of the arenas where homeless populations are discussed. During her time with the National Network for Youth, Darla has not only to grow the membership, the staff, the reach, and the connections of the organization but has also increased the amount of respect others have for the Network. Darla is a trailblazer, a mentor, a collaborator. She works to bring together people and organizations for the betterment of homeless youth and young adults. She is well known to other organizations serving runaway and homeless youth such as SchoolHouse Connection, National Coalition for Homeless Youth, etc. She is a formidable advocate on “the Hill” with Senators, Congressional Representatives, and their staffers when it comes to homeless youth and young adults. Melinda Giovengo, Executive Director of YouthCare and Board Chair for National Network for Youth says,"Darla is a tireless champion for our young people and the community providers that support them. Darla goes out of her way to ensure every request for help is answered and no question goes unanswered. That means connecting young people who call for access to a shelter in their community to a provider trying to understand why it takes so long to receive notification of funding. Darla has brought resources to the community through her amazing relationships with legislators from both sides of the isle because young people matter." She is the epitome of Together We Can!

Lifetime Achievement Awards
This award recognizes individuals whose distinguished record of professional achievements and accomplishments has improved the lives of youth and families across decades. NSPN is proud to recognize two recipients of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award, Patricia Balke and Phil Garrett. 

Patricia Balke has been the leading force in the development and continued impact of Wisconsin's network of runaway and homeless youth agencies. Her work has resulted in improving the access of young people and families in crisis to services in rural communities, small cities, and urban locations throughout Wisconsin. Patricia's work has resulted in a forum for collaboration and support of Wisconsin's runaway programs for each other and ultimately the families and young people they serve. Under her leadership, Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services (WAHRS) has been instrumental in supporting the development of Basic Center and Street Outreach programming through multi-site projects that improve shelter, outreach, and prevention services throughout the state. These services have been further complemented by the work of an AmeriCorps project that increases the impact of runaway programs through the commitment of members to provide a year of service meeting the needs of runaway and homeless youth in their communities. These efforts have resulted in improved access to services for Wisconsin's most vulnerable young people. Patricia has led the efforts of Wisconsin's runaway and homeless youth (RHY) providers to develop a unified voice and vision in responding to state and federal policy, research findings, best practices, and community needs. Her efforts have resulted in improvements in state policy and funding, unified services, and program peer support. While Patricia's professional accomplishments are impressive, her compassion and connection to others are truly inspiring. She is dedicated to providing opportunities to support positive youth development on state levels through the involvement of young leaders in training, advocacy, and agency structure. WAHRS maintains designated youth seats on the Board of Directors and integrates youth participation and leadership in the annual conference. She has provided further opportunities for youth to lead and guide policy through the completion of focus groups on the structure of youth services in Wisconsin and facilitating the participation of youth in state and national conferences and leadership. Each of those efforts has been completed with compassion and respect for those with whom she works, letting youth, families, and communities know that their contributions and strengths are valued.

“I cannot express how humbled and honored I am to be included
among the recipients for the NSPN lifetime achievement award,
recognizing the accomplishments and achievements improving the
lives of youth and families across decades. After 39 years, I have
had the honor of working with some absolutely amazing and caring
individuals. The compassion and strength of those who dedicate
their lives to this work has carried me to this point and will
carry my work forward now.”

Access a transcript of Patricia's acceptance speech.

Phil Garrett
has the special ability to connect authentically with kids. He is always willing to listen and offer a safe place for youth to talk and process their decisions. This high level of trust is unique because Phil is not their assigned case manager, and once he completes all of the intake processes, he does not have daily or weekly scheduled interactions with clients. On any given day, however, there will be a youth sitting across from Phil is his office, sharing their struggles and eagerly hoping for the advice and wisdom that Phil is known for. There is something very reassuring about being in Phil’s presence. He isn’t the loudest or the largest personality in the room, but Phil’s humble demeanor and heartfelt wisdom is a steadying force for youth who have only known chaos and disruption. Phil has a gentle manner, is quick to listen and slow to speak, and offers advice in a non-judgmental way. Phil is respectful of everyone and is truly a team player. He is willing to take late-night calls and come in on weekends. Bridget, a former Steppingstone youth, says, “His role as a case manager never ended. He worked around the clock to maintain open communication with me and immediately created an environment that was conducive for me to be transparent concerning my mental state. He provided me with every resource I needed to be successful, including motivating me to not get discouraged with my current placement and to always search for and go after greater things in life. With Mr. Garrett as my Case Manager, complacency was impossible!" Phil has helped make changes and improvements through his role on the Membership Committee for the St. Louis County Continuum of Care (CoC). He has also been a supporter of implementing youth coordinated entry in the St. Louis area. Within the Steppingstone program, Phil has been an asset in streamlining the process of ordering, stocking, storing, and distributing apartment start-up kits, and has also been instrumental in building relationships with apartment property managers to encourage them to rent to program youth.

“It means so much to be recognized by peers, by those who really know 
what this work is like. It’s also a reminder to me of all the people I’ve 
worked with over the years in the community and the program here 
and how I cannot do it without their support. I hope that one day 
they can get the same kind of recognition.”

View Phil's acceptance speech.
Access a transcript of the speech.