Sam was just 17 and had already been homeless for three years. His mother’s new boyfriend threw him out. He couch-surfed, moving among friends and relatives until he ran out of places to stay. He spent more than a few nights outside huddled on park benches around Center City. He had no place to call home. But he stayed in school the whole time.
Then, one day, during his daily chore of finding a place to sleep that night, he Googled: “Where can a homeless teenager stay?” That’s when he found us at Covenant House Pennsylvania. On his eighteenth birthday – the very first day he became eligible – he walked through our doors and asked for help. He told me once that his decision to come to Covenant House Pennsylvania was his birthday present to himself, and that it was the best gift he ever received.
Sam’s been with us for about a year now. He’s funny, engaging, and very, very bright. (His SAT scores dwarf mine!) He’s working full time, and a few months ago I asked him about his plans for college. He was planning to start up at community college in the fall, he said. I reminded him that he once told me that he does better work when school is a real challenge, and Sam and I made a deal. We agreed that Sam would apply to three four-year colleges – just apply – without any commitment that he would go. Over the next few weeks, every time I’d see Sam I’d check in and he’d tell me how many applications he completed.
Three weeks ago, Sam got his acceptance letter.
Tomorrow, Sam will join the thousands of students entering college in Philadelphia. We’ll be there to get him all of the things that college students need for their dorm rooms, to take him to school, and to help him set up his room. We’ll be there for Sam as he moves into his new home, just like we were there for him when he was homeless.
Covenant House may be a gift to Sam, but Sam is undoubtedly a gift to us.