Just a few short years ago, Frankie Betancourt was wandering through life. His mother was battling a drug addiction, forcing Frankie and his brother Donni to fend for themselves.
"I didn’t have a foundation. I was living house to house, day by day," Frankie said. "I was lost."
Then, while undergoing treatment for her addiction at the Community Health Center, Frankie’s mother discovered Horizon House, a program geared toward 18-to-22-year-old homeless young adults.
More than 300 older adolescents go homeless each year in Summit County, and Horizon House’s mission is to help as many of those people as possible – including Frankie and Donni. "(Horizon House) made me open up my eyes to life," Frankie said. "I got my life together."
Frankie and Donni are just two of 12 older adolescents who have successfully graduated from the two-year program. At least 10 more are currently living at Horizon House, which was established in 2005 to fill the gap that exists when teens age out of the foster care system as "adults" with nowhere to go and very few life skills.
"So many of these kids fall by the wayside and turn to a life of crime and drug abuse," said Rachel D’Attoma, CHC director of development. "Horizon House provides them with a safe haven so they can become contributing members of Summit County."
Participants in the program must diligently follow a life management plan that focuses on rebuilding their lives and goals. They must also be sober for at least three months prior to entering the program and be committed to furthering their education.
Frankie and Donni both made that commitment, and by the time they left the program, their lives were completely changed. Both saved up for their own cars and began pursuing their dreams.
Frankie is now part of a successful R&B singing group, and Donni is enrolled at Kent State. "It’s just been a total 180 with these boys," said D’Attoma. "They came to us with nothing."
Frankie and Donnie are now resident advisers at two of the program’s houses and are using their experiences to help younger adolescents.
"They call me their older brother," Frankie said. "It feels real good to know I can actually help them out. I know exactly where they’re coming from."
With the help of a $15,000 grant from Akron Community Foundation and $10,000 from the foundation’s John A. McAlonan Fund, the program was able to expand to four houses and reduce the number of kids on its waiting list. That means more adolescents like Frankie and Donni will get a second chance at life.
"When I first came (to Horizon House), I was all screwed up. Arrows were pointing everywhere, and I had no good path," Frankie said. "Now, I’ve got goals set up and I’m focused on what I need to do to be successful."