In July 1994, founder Jeanie Kortum created A Home Away From Homelessness in partnership with the National Park Service. Home Away would become both a site of direct, multi-faceted service to homeless youth and a groundbreaking advocacy program that worked with the community, politicians and the school district to ameliorate the problems faced by thousands of Bay Area youth.
Its early advocacy work included organization of an educational summit at Grace Cathedral that kicked off an effort to bring the city into compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Home Away worked with the community and school district on a three year educational plan that propelled hundreds of children into special service programs, addressing a previously ignored but pressing legal right of this vulnerable population. And it initiated the ongoing mentorship program that some have called the first of its kind in California.
Home Away had started simply with a weekly program that took children to a bucolic cottage on the beach at Fort Cronkhite, where Jeanie observed a transformational experience in kids as they played in the waves, rolled in the sand and simply had fun for a few hours. The program became known as Beach House and continues to serve hundreds of homeless Bay Area children each year.
Based on that early success, Jeanie led a programming expansion that included a pioneering after-school program for middle school students located in former officers' quarters in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Modeled on the idea of "home," program size is kept purposely small to afford close attention to every student. Staff maintain regular contact with parents, meet with children’s teachers and attend school meetings on their behalf. And in their home away from home, students find stability and structure, love and nourishment. Afternoon snack and playtime are followed by one-on-one tutoring and a family-style dinner. Expanded to include high-schoolers, this is our signature School House Program.
The 2008 economic crisis threatened the future of Home Away as funding for non-profits nearly disappeared. With our founder now retired, the board of directors turned to Bay Area Community Resources (BACR), a large Bay regional non-profit for administrative help. After our formal merger in 2012, the Home Away Board continued in an advisory capacity, charged with fundraising and strategic direction, while financial, HR, IT and program management functions were transferred to BACR.
Today, Home Away from Homelessness continues as a vibrant part of BACR. Although new and exciting programs continue to be implemented at both Beach House and School House, the heart of Home Away remains the familial community that exists for our youth. Whether they are taking a walk on the trail, studying for tomorrow's math test, writing their college essay or kayaking in the Bay, our students 'belong' in the safe, supportive and enriching environment which is Home Away.
Jeanie was the Executive Director of Home Away for 18 years. Her passion for changing the lives of homeless children for the better impacted and inspired everyone she met, from the children to the volunteers and the staff. In addition to creating Home Away, she helped launch a city-wide educational summit for homeless youth and worked to create a strategic plan for the education of homeless youth in the Bay Area in concert with the community and school districts.
In her thirty years working with underserved children, she established and staffed programs in a variety of settings: homeless shelters, community-based centers, and even tents after the 1969 Loma Prieta earthquake. She has served on the Mayor's Advisory Council on Childcare, numerous community boards, and the Mayor's Citizens Committee to prioritize federal grant money for childcare. Her humanitarian work has been acknowledged by a long list of awards that includes the Jefferson Award, the San Francisco Foundation's Community Award, the Commission on Women Making History Award, the Espiritu Award from the Isabel Allende Foundation, and the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Urban Research Association.
Jeanie is also a novelist and occasional journalist. Her experience as a foster and adoptive parent has been the subject of two CBS national specials. Jeanie retired from A Home Away from Homelessness in 2011. Her most recent novel, Stones, was published in Winter 2017.
Articles about Home Away by Jeanie Kortum:
At Home With The Horizon, San Francisco Chronicle, December 2005
Crystal, Narrative Magazine, 2009