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VOL. 38 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 5, 2014

Focus on teens ‘at risk of being homeless’

By Tim Ghianni

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Stefanie Toups plays with two kittens at the store.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Not only is Crossroads Campus a successful non-profit operation that’s building a bridge to help homeless animals and potentially homeless young people, it’s also a thriving retail business operation driven by the savvy of executive director Lisa Stetar and her staff.

The first phase of the operation in 2011 was outreach, using animal care to help young people on society’s margins.

In March of 2013, the retail space opened as a training ground and commercial enterprise.

In the first year of operation, Crossroads Pet-Shop & Adopt, at 707 Monroe Street in Germantown, covered 30 percent of its operational expenses with earned revenue. This year expectations are that the store could cover between 40 and 50 percent of its operating costs.

It’s business. But it’s not strictly business.

“Our goal is to transform lives by creating opportunities for individuals who face poverty and homelessness to care for homeless animals,” says Stetar.

The Crossroads Campus – the third phase will be affordable housing for the young people who partake in the program – was sprung from conversations Stetar was having with homeless people advocate Charles Strobel, homeless animal advocate Emmylou Harris and others about how those populations could help one another.

Stetar elected to begin by putting the “focus on young people who were going to be at risk of being homeless in the future.”

Adoption fees

Crossroads Pet-Shop & Adopt charges $125 for adult dogs, $150 for puppies and $100 for senior dogs. Cats are $75 and kittens $90.

Since the animals come from Metro Animal Care and Control, all adoptees are up to date on vaccinations, spayed or neutered and micro-chipped.

“One in four kids in foster care face homelessness,” says Stetar who comes to this enterprise after a career in environmental risk assessment.

“We felt that if we could focus the program on catching these young people early on, we could make a difference in the trajectory.”

In the past, the young people have been paid by the agencies – Oasis, Goodwill Martha O’Bryan, etc. – which send them to work at the pet store.

When the time runs out on the grants paying the interns, Crossroads assumes those costs, enabling more training for the young people and extended job experience.

“As we continue, I want to work with people of all ages who are vulnerable, but the thing I like best is giving these young people the opportunity to be part of the solution by playing a role in the lives of these animals,” she says.

Stetar’s Crossroads programs began with its Caring Connections – using dogs and dog training to help teach responsibility and caring to young people who are incarcerated or in state care – in 2011.

That program began at a facility for young women, but when it closed, Crossroads began to work with the young men at Monroe Harding, where every Saturday dogs are taken to the campus for the young men to bond with and to help train.

And pretty much vice versa.

“They form an emotional bond with these animals,” Stetar says. ‘’It changes the way they see themselves, see animals and the way they interact with people.

“We are in our third year at Monroe Harding and we are getting ready to work with the women at the women’s jail…. I am expecting in the next six to eight weeks to have dogs living in the jail with the women for six weeks.”

Basically, the program will enlist four dogs and eight inmates – two to a dog – and have the women keep and train the dogs for six weeks.

“They will be adopted out at the end of the program,” Stetar says. “And the dogs that aren’t adopted out will come back (to the store) to be adopted out.”

“We have seven dog-training interns with us now, but their time with us varies,” she says, noting that the goal is to keep the young people employed for at least eight weeks so they get some individualized training in everything from running the cash register to grooming animals.

“When we bring a shipment (of pet food and other stock) in, it is part of their responsibility to get the items priced and on the shelves and do basic customer service,” she says, citing one of the training opportunities.

The young people also work to assist groomers and “we had a class in bathing and brushing” to teach another skill the youngsters can take with them.

“Some of the skills we teach would prepare them to work in a vet clinic or with kennel care.”

“Our goal, by the time 2016 wraps up, is to be self-sustaining, paying our way with earned revenue,” she says, noting that the store this year will likely push the quarter-million-dollar mark in revenue.

For future growth, though – especially the residential phase – the program still will be dependent on fund-raising, through concerts and the like.

“We do a fair amount of grant-writing and we have some very generous individual donors,” Stetar says.

“And with Emmylou (Harris) as one of our founding board members, she has helped us to do benefits and concerts.”

The next big step for Crossroads will actually be the residential facility, affordable housing for the interns and “graduates” of the program, a place where they can safely begin the transition to independence.

While she’d like for that housing facility to be in Germantown, Stetar is a realist and a businesswoman. “Properties in this area that fit the criteria are selling for $1 million an acre.”

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