Get Up, Stand Up
A story about the journey from homeless to hopeful
Written By: Brooke Beard Standup for Kids | Lend a Helping Hand During the Holidays
Photographed By: Nancy Villere
Knowing the shocking reality that roughly 13 kids die on the streets of America every single day, what would you do about it? Terilyn Burg, a citizen of San Diego, recognized this and did something absolutely extraordinary.
According to statistics, if there were only 100 homeless kids in San Diego, 50 of them would be younger than age 15, 80 would never be reported missing, and 60 would have tried to kill themselves—let’s address the issue that this is only just scratching the surface of a deeper problem. The shocking truth is the fact that this is not only in San Diego, but happening throughout the entire nation. As bystanders witnessing this tragedy, it’s difficult to grasp the harsh reality and act upon it, but for people like Terilyn Burg, it was only more of a motivation to beat it to the ground. Terilyn, Executive Director of StandUp For Kids, could not bear the horrific idea of children that were homeless. While the average nine-year-old should be experiencing their first Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bar at Disneyland, there were kids dumpster diving to eat their only meal for the next few days.
In an interview, Terilyn said, “The sad thing is, in today’s society, we all accept that people live in cars, and there’re homeless adults living on the streets, but no one wants to admit there are kids out there, too.” She knew this needed to change, and it needed to change fast.
In 1990, Terilyn and three other close companions started a commitment to helping better the homeless youth in San Diego. Beginning with a few supplies in the trunk of a car and a promise to these young children, this pledge quickly formed into the organization StandUp For Kids.
Starting in our own backyard of San Diego, StandUp For Kids is now a national nonprofit organization in more than 15 states. StandUp For Kids San Diego is a commitment to homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth ages 13-25. All branches of government and major groups, such as Virgin Mobile, Levi Strauss, and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, recognize StandUp For Kids. This organization has no particular religious or political association. The mission of StandUp For Kids is “to end the cycle of youth homelessness throughout the United States.”
StandUp For Kids is entirely volunteer-based. The organization heavily relies on committed volunteers who have put aside part of their life to help others build one. StandUp For Kids has a solution to help the homeless youth, consisting of street outreach, life-skills mentoring, prevention and advocacy. The most important part of StandUp For Kids is building intentional relationships— providing these kids with someone they can trust, and somewhere they can feel safe. As these relationships are being built, and trust is being restored, the organization helps the kids become independent and self-sufficient members of society. As for the youth that are unable to leave the streets, StandUp For Kids supports them in a declaration to provide a place for them to be safe and, more importantly, a place for them to survive.
Nestled in the heart of Downtown San Diego, StandUp For Kids has a building for these members of the homeless youth to call “home.” This inviting building consists of a computer lab, girl’s bathroom and shower, boy’s bathroom and shower, closet of clothing (ranging from daily wear to interview attire), a washer and a dryer, living room, dining room and a kitchen with a refrigerator that is always stocked. The youths that visit the StandUp For Kids home quickly learn the responsibilities of cleaning up after themselves, doing laundry, and various other “normal” chores. They have the opportunity to live real lives. Each night of the week, different donors provide a hot meal, which every kid that steps foot on the premises is promised…no questions asked.
Everything at the StandUp For Kids house has been donated by other local organizations and by the act of personal giving from donors. Whether it’s the books that are being read or the couches that are being sat on, everything has been given to these youths out of love and compassion.
Fueled by passionate hearts, StandUp For Kids doesn’t just tell kids that they want to help them, but, instead, they prove it. Put simply, “It doesn’t take a minute—it takes a commitment.”
Q: What’s “the dream” for StandUp For Kids San Diego?
Terilyn Burg: Buying and owning a building that we can call our “home.” It’s going to take money, but we are positive about finding money and finding people who have compassion like we do. Also, finding everyday necessities for these kids like a hot meal, pair of shoes… whatever their needs are. These are the Peter Pan’s lost generation of kids and we got them here and we love them here. They are survivors—they are amazing people. Some of them are signed up for GED, for City College…we need to and we will find the money for the books and supplies. That’s “the dream.”
Q: What inspired Standup For Kids to start in San Diego?
TB: When I was walking in Balboa Park with some friends, I saw kids going through trashcans that looked rough around the edges. They were not clean, and I wondered to myself, “What’s going on here?” We were near picnic tables and had sandwiches, and we thought, let’s set this down on the table and walk away, so we did. As we were a block away and could still see the tables, everything was already gone. We realized that these kids were hungry, very hungry.
Q: Specifically, how have you seen this organization positively impact the overall community of San Diego?
TB: It’s funny. I’m hoping we have made an impact on the community. We focus on more of an impact on the kids in the community. We are more concerned about if a kid is clean and sober, rather than the community’s viewpoint. We have the most caring staff in the world—they are volunteers that are getting no money, but they provide the richest love and compassion to these kids. The volunteers touch the lives of these kids and completely invest in them, which impacts the overall community. In doing so, these kids have impacted the new kids that come to us. It comes full circle. On Thursday nights from 7-8pm, students from the medical college come and talk to the kids here about topics like depression, and it’s just so amazing to see the community’s heart full of love for them.
Q: With the season of giving upon us, how can people give their support and help StandUp For Kids?
TB: Contact us on our website and Facebook. We are always looking for mentors and donors to do an underwear drive, blanket drive…things that we need. For instance, we had a group do a plastic bag drive. It was just an amazing thing that they came through with all of these plastic bags that we didn’t have to buy. We have an email list that we send out with specific items for which we are in dire need. We have some amazing volunteers that really help when we’re short on underwear, socks, whatever it is, and it goes on our daily post, so people know how to specifically give.
Q: What does the support from other organizations in San Diego look like?
TB: We have groups that have been very kind to us that have sponsored us, such as women’s clubs and men’s service clubs. Churches come through with stuff that the youth groups helped fundraise for. I’m just amazed at some of the stuff that comes through. We got a bag full of Skechers, and it was such a hit. This last May, we sent out letters to all of the high schools in the area for their lost and found items. It was just really amazing. Every year we have a college group from New York spending their outreach time doing incredible things with our kids, cleaning the center from top to bottom, and they always have a check for us from the fundraising they do. I’m always left speechless because of the amazing support we get.
Q: In the future, what kind of events can we look forward to? What will benefit StandUp For Kids?
TB: During the month of December, we give kids a “wish list” and tell them to write five things they really want, and we try our very best to give them at least three of those five things. We’ve been really lucky to have companies come in and sponsor our event. Starting in October, we look for groups that are willing to sponsor our kids during the holiday season. That includes Thanksgiving…coming in and cooking a turkey dinner. In the past, we’ve had a beautiful dinner catered with people serving the kids. Those are the things that we like to do—the special events that I always thought to myself, “Do I really have to go to another one of these?” Then I realize these kids don’t even realize what a catered dinner is. They get special badges, and they are all on their best behavior. They are just little angels. Also, “48 Hours” is a yearly event, held on a Friday at 6pm – Sunday at 6pm, where we make the public aware that there are kids living on the streets by themselves. We offer lists of items that we need and give them to people in an effort to encourage them to give.
Q: Is there a need for volunteers?
TB: Yes, always. We need people to get out on the streets and go. When there is one kid, it’s not just one…they have friends.
Q: If someone was interested in becoming a volunteer, how would they go about that?
TB: First, contact email@example.com to get involved. After that, there are a few more steps: paperwork, character references, background screening and online contracts. Our volunteers are what make StandUp For Kids work. We have training once a month, which consists of orientation to let the potential volunteers know what real life is all about. We tend to lose folks after this day, but we offer behind-the-scenes work if they are more comfortable doing paperwork. To be a volunteer, they have to have at least a six-month commitment, so they can build a relationship with the kids. The work that our volunteers do and the love that they flood out onto these kids really does matter. Not only do they change the lives of kids, but the kids change their lives, too.
Q: You just said that the volunteers have their lives changed by these kids—it was a powerful statement. Can you elaborate on that?
TB: It opens up everyone’s vision to how grateful we are for our lives. We get used to being able to do things, like being able to walk from our car to our house…that’s a normal thing to us, but it’s not normal for these kids. It’s truly an eye-opener. We admire these kids because of their courage, stamina and survival skills. It really encourages us to be more like that.
Q: Can you give an example of how StandUp For Kids has radically changed someone’s life in San Diego?
TB: Anyone can read the success stories on the StandUp For Kids San Diego webpage, such as “Amanda’s Story.” It really touches my heart. Only after a few months of living in San Diego, Amanda found herself homeless. She met a few street kids who invited her to the StandUp For Kids home so she decided to go. Instantly she felt loved and welcomed, which was foreign to her. The services at StandUp For Kids enabled her to get into housing and “find the inner strength to become a better person.” Amanda expressed how the volunteers never gave up on her. It’s just simply amazing to see someone go from having absolutely nothing to finding purpose in life.
Q: Tell us about the daily activities that the StandUp For Kids San Diego team does.
TB: Our volunteers normally arrive around 4:30pm and make a quick walk through the center to make sure there is water in the refrigerator, start a load of towels and get food out of the refrigerator. Volunteers welcome kids, serve the kids food, mingle with the kids, ask them questions like, “Was it a bad hair day for you?” or “How are you really doing?” We have different crews with different supervisors every day. Regardless of what day of the week it is, the most important activity of our volunteers is to build relationships with these kids. Sometimes it’s a slow process, but we don’t give up.
Q: During this season, what is the focus of the organization?
TB: We are going right now towards schooling and education. We have the kids who really, really want to go. When they asked about it, we say, “Yes you can, and yes we will make it happen.” We make sure if they have school the next day, we have a lunch made for them or give them money to buy lunch while they are there. No one should ever be held back from being able to get an education.
Q: What other programs does StandUp For Kids offer?
TB: Outreach programs. We go out and give food for people to survive for the next 24 hours and invite them to our facility. We have our Send a Kid Home program, where we reunite the kids with a family member, so they are safe and off the streets. There’s also Back to School program, where we teach them interview skills and how to write a resume. We help them get those job opportunity skills. In the near future, we are starting the Baby and Me program that will help the homeless youth and their newborns.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about this organization?
TB: The kids.
Q: How has the city of San Diego helped to support this organization?
TB: We get no government funding; we run on donations and grants and the kindness of people’s hearts. We are all volunteer-based. That’s just one of the many reasons why we love and respect our volunteers so much.
Q: What inspires the volunteers of the organization?
TB: The relationships that they build with the kids. They will break your heart and run away, but they are kids, so you don’t give up. They are just like any other kid that has dreams and hopes. Sometimes those things get sidelined, but the volunteers are passionate about getting them back into the game.
Q: Tell us about the journey of a homeless youth once they encounter StandUp For Kids.
TB: The majority of the kids, roughly 75 percent of them, come back, and it’s not necessarily the next night either, but they do come back. Every kid that steps in here gets a hot meal. We do not accept kids who just had a fight with their mom and dad and are on the streets. We call their parents and help mend that relationship before we consider them “homeless.” Everyone’s journey is different, but they are all driven by the love and compassion here.
Q: What has been the greatest achievement so far?
TB: We’ve had the opportunity to make people aware that kids are living on the streets by themselves. It’s unacceptable that this is happening. These are just kids. Next time you’re at the mall, look at a kid with a backpack and ask yourself “Is that kid homeless?” We’ve been able to make people more aware of this.
Q: Tell us about the future plans for StandUp For Kids.
TB: We want to be able to expand our services and have additional programs online so people can find out the needs, strengths and dreams of the kids who are here. Whatever they want to do, I want to be able to say, “Hang on a minute, I know someone who can help you out.” It’s so important that we diversify so we can reach more kids. No kid left behind. In the future, we want a building that we can call “our home, ” so that two years down the line we don’t have to pick everything up and find a new place. That’s going to take money, but we’re positive about finding money and finding people that will have the compassion and the caring that we do.
Q: If you could explain StandUp For Kids in one word, what would it be, and why?
TB: I’ll have to hyphenate this one: unconditional-love. StandUp For Kids is a family, and family is unconditional love. Whether they make the right or wrong choice, it’s important that the kid knows that a little hiccup is still love. It’s okay if they have green hair, tattoos and piercings…that’s who they are. We aren’t afraid to hug them and listen to them. Unconditional love is guidance and suggestions, but no judging.