High school graduates face a variety of challenges as they transition to young adulthood – finding their first place to live on their own, or adjusting to life in a college dorm; getting their first job; balancing part-time work and school; signing up for financial aid and navigating the college application or military recruiting process.

Now imagine doing all of those things while also dealing with the following scenarios:

  1. Your parents have abandoned you. You live alone, supporting yourself and a teen sibling with special needs, until finally you run out of resources, and the Department of Human Services intervenes and helps you settle in with a relative.
  2. Your mother has passed away, and your father has returned to a life of drugs – and is trying to get you to join him in that life.
  3. Your only housing option is a tent in the back yard offered by the parents of a friend, who let you stay there, but don’t offer to feed you.
  4. You have a full academic scholarship to one of Iowa’s Regents universities, but you are living in a homeless shelter is Des Moines.

These are not hypotheticals; they are stark reality for 13 members of the Class of 2017 who live in Benton County or the surrounding area.

“We have homeless and independent teenagers in our school and community,” says V-S Superintendent Mary Jo Hainstock. “Many of them have an interest in completing their high school education and pursuing post-secondary training or education but it can be a challenge as they struggle to find a safe place to stay, food to eat, and pay for other bills that most 17 or 18-year-olds don’t have. It is great that we have a group of community people stepping up to help them as well as many local businesses and individuals who are contributing financially.”

The group of women, led by Vinton residents Erin Monaghan and Heidi Schminke, have been working since 2014 to help homeless high school graduates by offering them some of the support most receive from their families. The ladies plan graduation parties, and collect donations from individuals and businesses to help these young adults set up their first apartment or prepare for college.

During a meeting Tuesday evening, the ladies reviewed a list of 13 graduates from Vinton-Shellsburg, Benton Community, Belle Plaine, as well as Iowa Valley (Marengo) and Independence, who fit the definition of homeless.

The goal: “To help recognize an outstanding achievement for area youth who have had to beat the odds to succeed.”

Of the 13 graduates on that list, eight are in either foster care, or kinship care (living with other adult family members); two are in shelters or residential facilities, two are literally homeless and one is living independently.

Of those 13, 11 are making plans for college, one plans to enter the workforce and one is undecided. One of the 13 has received a full academic scholarship to Iowa State; another one is already in the Iowa National Guard.

Erin and Heidi and their friends are seeking donations and volunteers to help organize graduation parties for each of the 13, and also accepting donations of a variety of school and household items to help these graduates get established as they move on from high school.

The needs range from laptops and other computer devices to the variety of household items, from kitchenware to personal hygiene products to cleaning supplies to beds and other furniture.

There is also a need for graduation cakes and even graduation photos for some of the 13.

Donations are needed within the next week or two, since the planning for graduation parties is also well under way.

To volunteer to help with a party, or to make a donation of items or cash, contact Erin Monaghan at Erin.bentoniowadecat@gmail.com or Heidi Schminke at Heidi.bentoniowadecat@gmail.com.