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Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter celebrates 15 years

Nancy Galeana, left, and Isabel Kluwe are the co-directors for the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
Nancy Galeana, left, and Isabel Kluwe are the co-directors for the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The house is nestled in a peaceful area of Huntington Beach, with Central Park to the west and the sports complex to the south.

Special stepping stones line the backyard of the property, each one designed by a youth who has been helped by the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.

The shelter celebrated its 15th anniversary on July 1. Breanna Ballard is just one of the nearly 2,000 clients between the ages of 11 and 17 who have been served since it opened its doors in 2006.

Ballard, now 19, stayed at the shelter for the typical three-week period in 2018 after experiencing family issues. When it was time for her to move on, Nancy Galeana of Waymakers helped Ballard transition into foster care.

Three years later, Ballard has her own place to live in Los Angeles and is attending Glendale Community College. She is studying psychology, a fact that makes her laugh because she realizes the irony.

“I had decided that I wasn’t going home and that something needed to change,” Ballard said. “Nancy was the first person who actually listened to me about everything going on at home. It was difficult and scary to go through, but in the end, it got me to where I am now.”

Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter, which opened in 2006, celebrated its 15th anniversary last week.
Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter, which opened in 2006, celebrated its 15th anniversary last week.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Galeana, a co-director at the Huntington Beach shelter, considers Ballard a success story. Galeana has been at the facility for 12 years now. She and Isabel Kluwe, a licensed clinical social worker, became its co-directors when Elsa Greenfield retired earlier this year.

“Elsa wore all hats,” said Kluwe, who lives in Huntington Beach. “The idea of filling those shoes seemed incredibly overwhelming. With her retirement, it offered an opportunity to restructure a little bit.”

Waymakers operates three youth shelters in Orange County. The Laguna Beach location was founded in 1979, and the Tustin location in 2016. Huntington Beach has some differences from its sister facilities.

For one, the Waymakers Huntington Beach shelter has capacity for 12 youth, six boys and six girls, which is more than the six youths that Laguna Beach and Tustin can each accommodate. Also, Galeana said that the Huntington Beach location — formerly operated by Community Service Programs Inc. — deals with runaway and homeless children as well.

Carol Carlson, who is the program director at the Laguna Beach and Tustin locations, also serves as director of the children’s crisis residential program.

“Many times we do get kids from other states, because they run away and come to Beach City, U.S.A.,” Galeana said. “They end up stranded many times, so we help them go back home with the runaway component of the program.”

A girls' room at the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
A girls’ room at the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Waymakers has kept its shelters open and fully staffed during the coronavirus pandemic, which Carlson said has been crucial for the at-risk children being served.

“The pandemic increased their isolation, their depression and anxiety,” she said. “It also shined a light on their fractured support systems at home. Many of their parents were also struggling with their employment or sometimes illnesses in their family. Many of our clients lost a family member to COVID, so that stress and that heartache was foremost to them.

“When you’re in crisis, you’re best off when you have people to talk to,” she continued. “They couldn’t go to school and they couldn’t see their friends, so they became even more isolated. Having the youth shelters open was really important.”

Carlson said she hopes that with the pandemic easing and the state reopening, volunteers will be able to return to the houses.

The Huntington Beach youth shelter did not have a celebration last week for its 15th anniversary, beyond some social media posts.

“We need to contain the space as much as possible, reduce the risk of any sort of [coronavirus] outbreak in the house,” Kluwe said.

Still, Waymakers relies on help from the community to keep things running, in addition to federal and county funding and different grants.

The multipurpose room at the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
The multipurpose room at the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Waymakers raised $240,000 at its charity golf tournament on May 20 at Strawberry Farms Golf Club in Irvine. The next big fundraiser is the Light a Light of Love snowflake ceremony, Galeana said, scheduled for Dec. 5 at the Huntington Beach Pier.

Those interested in making a donation can often find needs listed on the shelter’s website or Instagram account or call the shelter at (714) 842-6600.

Carlson said to date more than 9,000 kids have been helped between the three houses. During the pandemic, more than 52,000 counseling hours were clocked in Huntington Beach between April 2020 and the end of May of this year.

The Waymakers staff hopes for many more years to come.

“I love what we do here,” Galeana said. “I believe in the mission of helping struggling youth. It’s definitely very rewarding. I know we cannot make a complete change to everything that the youth go through, but it’s definitely a place they can come and have this space to themselves.”

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