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School district and Project Hope Alliance will help homeless students to age 24

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District is partnering with Project Hope Alliance to offer support to homeless students, and students living in group homes or struggling with substance abuse and other traumatic circumstances.

The district will introduce the Promotor Pathway intervention model as a pilot program on Jan. 4 at Newport Harbor High School four days a week until the end of the school year.

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The program will have two case managers, or promotores, available to 50 students attending the Newport Beach school. They will offer any needed support until the students reach age 24.

"The goal is for the promotores to stay with the students until that age in order to support their educational, employment and healthy living goals," the district's Mental Health and Outreach Services coordinator Melissa Hurd said. "By doing this, they maintain a consistent relationship with them starting from their high school career all the way until they enter the work environment."

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In addition to connecting the students with services, the case managers will also make themselves available to their students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Project Hope Alliance Director of Programs Nicole Delaney.

"These are intensive case managers and mentors to the students who will also be accessible by cell phone," Delaney said. "They're really there for whatever the students need assistance with, even if it's just an ear to listen that they need."

Around 32,000 youth in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade experience homelessness in the county, according to the Orange County Department of Education.

In the 2013-14 school year, the department recorded 205 homeless students enrolled in Newport-Mesa. The most recent statistics were not available Wednesday.

The district considers any student who lacks a fixed and adequate nighttime residence as homeless.

"Being a homeless child in an affluent community does bring extra layers of shame," Delaney said. "It makes you glaringly more aware that you are in more need. That's why we're excited about this partnership and that the [Newport-Mesa] staff was really open to addressing this need."

Case workers for the program are found through Project Hope Alliance, a Costa Mesa nonprofit dedicated to providing programs and opportunities for homeless youth in K-12 grades to keep them in schools.

"As a homeless student who attended NMUSD and a parent of two children currently at NMUSD, I am extremely honored to bring this program to the district," Project Hope Alliance CEO Jennifer Friend said in a statement.

Promotor Pathway was founded by the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, D.C., seven years ago.

After Friend met with the center's CEO in June through the Clinton Global Initiative, a group that connects global leaders with one another, the two discussed the possibility of Project Hope Alliance using the program. Both agreed Promotor Pathway would be a good fit for the Costa Mesa nonprofit.

Promotor Pathway has already been implemented in school sites throughout Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Oregon. Newport-Mesa is the first California school district to utilize the intervention model.

Promotores met with Newport Harbor staff last week and are currently in the process of reaching out to families to discuss their services.

Hurd said the district will follow the pilot program and consider expanding it to other schools in the future. Project Hope Alliance hopes to expand the program to schools statewide.

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