Concerned about the safety, security, and futures of homeless and vulnerable young women and girls, Amanda Good, CEO of Alternatives For Girls, has been leading efforts in Detroit to provide support, shelter, help, and hope to at-risk youth for a quarter of a century.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Alternatives For Girls CEO Amanda Good:
Sometimes being a leader starts with simply being in the right place at the right time, and by saying “yes” to do what needs to be done, and by investing in a purpose that is powerful and compelling well beyond [the efforts of] any one person.
In our experience, in the c...we simply could not allow homeless and high-risk girls and young women to continue to be neglected to the point that they were lost to the street.
reation and building of Alternatives For Girls, the vision was clear. In response to an unacceptable reality that revealed itself in our community, we simply could not allow homeless and high-risk girls and young women to continue to be neglected to the point that they were lost to the street. The decision to take on this work was an obvious one; then, as now, turning away was not an option. Continuing to lead in this work means persisting with energy, focus, and determination.
I am fortunate to be a part of a strong team of community of leaders who are determined to ensure the well-being of those we serve; this is not an individual pursuit. What matters is not so much who fills any one role, but that there is a collective strength of commitment to move the work forward. Individuals will come and go at all levels, including leadership roles, but when the mission is the right one, the team will make sure that the work continues.
What is your dream for kids?
First, that we, as a society, reach a consensus that all children and youth are entitled to the basics. Like shelter, security in their ability to survive, safety, nutrition, health care, education, and nurturing. That they are entitled to the range of support that generally comes from strong parenting, whether or not their parents are able to provide that support. When parents are unable to, the community must -- and will -- back them up, first by shoring up struggling families and then by providing family-type support when it is needed, both consistently and comprehensively.
Secondly, my dream for youth is that they become regarded as a critical asset to their families, neighborhoods, and community institutions, and that they recognize that they are needed and that they have much to contribute. All of us thrive best, I believe, when we are valued and are able to contribute in our unique ways. We need the energy, creativity, ideas, and voices of our youth. In other words, our communities need our youth, and our youth need to be genuinely needed.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
With a growing understanding that a vital social sector is critical to an overall healthy community, one thing that is needed to improve Michigan’s social sector environment is recognition -- recognition by the philanthropic sector that human service agencies need investment. They need investment in core services and financial stability. In times of economic distress, these arenas ought to be sustained and prioritized over the creation of new programs.
How do you know you’re making progress?
Our greatest indicators of progress are measured with the achievements of one young woman at a time -- when a young woman who was, at one time, homeless, alone, and in harm’s way, is connected to a support network and is on track to graduate from college and pursue her career and personal dreams. On a larger scale, we know we are making progress on I'm proud that we have done what it takes to insure that we will be here in the years to come for homeless and high-risk girls and young women for whom we are not just the most powerful lifeline, but the only lifeline.
the issue of youth homelessness when conditions are created such that the numbers of homeless youth who need us begin to wane. This will occur when children and youth who are at risk for becoming homeless are identified early on and are connected to caring adults and systems of support -- and when those connections are invested in for the long term.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that Alternatives For Girls began, against all odds, and continued through many years of fragile financial conditions. I am proud, that we rallied when we needed to – first, to build our building 10 years ago, and second, in 2009, with tremendous help from terrific supporters, who recognized that we were too important to fail, we created a path toward fiscal stability for the future. We are now on our way toward that goal as we plan to celebrate our 25th
anniversary this fall. I’m proud that we have done what it takes to insure that we will be here in the years to come for homeless and high-risk girls and young women for whom we are not just the most powerful lifeline, but the only lifeline.
Above all, I’m proud of the staff and volunteers whose one-on-one intense, personal commitment makes all the difference. It creates the conditions for individual success and it provides meaning for the fundraising and infrastructure-building work we do in support of their efforts -- and those of the girls and young women who use all of this support to the max.
What keeps you awake at night?
The girls and women who are out there, homeless, alone, on the street, who need us, but who haven’t found us. Even worse, when they do connect with us, find our shelter beds to be full.
Our work isn’t done until our networks are strengthened so that those in need quickly get connected to life-saving supports, and, of course, until our early intervention safety nets are repaired so that youth never reach the point of homelessness and need to turn to the streets for survival.