Helping Homeless Youth

By: Nancy Mannebach

When I was sixteen, I left home and I found myself in a position where I had no resources; no resources to learn and no resources to achieve opportunities that I once had. I came from a decently well-off family, vacations to the time-shares and summer homes almost periodically through the year, new phones and laptops every time they debuted. I lost track of the nannies I had growing up. I cried on my eighth birthday for having 18 presents instead of breaking the solid 20.

Amidst all this childhood spoiling, my parents were divorcing by the time I graduated middle school; my father was slowly slipping from sobriety, and my mother, with the help of the financial crisis in 2008, suffered from bipolar disorder that ripped my family apart. The home I knew once started turning into a dangerous place of abuse, neglect, and violence. There are now times I remember blocking out from childhood like a broken rib at age 9 when I got hit with a wooden bat for leaving the sink faucet on , an oven burn on my hand when I let my younger brother fall and scrape his knee. My mother broke my nose when I was fourteen for forgetting to turn off the light upstairs. To this day, all I can remember was how much blood there was…everywhere. Some days were fine, others not so much. When my mom changed the locks on the doors one night as I was coming back home from work, it was a tragedy and a blessing in disguise. As hard as being a child in my home was, I’m not ungrateful for it. I received many opportunities that many few in the world had and for that I can truly credit my circumstances.

When I left home, I couldn’t afford to go to school; I transferred out of Catholic school where my parents paid the tuition into the public school system. But even then I couldn’t afford to go simply because time in school meant time not getting paid, and not getting paid didn’t mean I couldn’t afford the newest clothing line anymore, it meant I didn’t eat. Suddenly the people I once knew wanted nothing to do with me.

I worked hard, some days skipping the not required classes and working 18 hours a day, 100+ hours a week some weeks. Minimum wage, paid internships, local temp jobs, anything I could do I did. Working for a car to get around in, working for money to pay college fees, working for something as little as paying for cap and gown. All of these experiences have defined me.

My commitment is to provide homeless youth with the opportunities necessary to learn the skills they need to move forward; not to go to college, not to find a job, but to simply move forward. The problem was no that I wasn’t capable of doing great things, I just was too preoccupied for making daily ends meet, that by the time it was one-o-clock in the morning and I was pulling into the drive way after closing out the pub, I couldn’t think about a future. Only the five am alarm I had set in the morning to pull a shift at the local grocery store before school.

I started my 501 (c) non-profit organization in 2013, a year and a half after I moved out of my home. Along with friends from a conference I attended, a first year law-student, and a social worker out in Utah, we combined teams and started fundraising for the first time. Our profit generating service was conducting lectures in high schools and on college campuses for a mere couple hundred dollars from PTA donations. I transferred my nonprofit over to a Board of Trustees in the Youth Development Sector of the UN last August. In conjunction with UN Women, I now work with them as a youth activist and a youth NGO consultant, where hundreds of youth around the world Skype in and we talk about initiatives and steps to continue their ideas.

I was invited to CGIU in 2013 to speak on behalf of the Initiative (TARI) and I am so humbled to have been invited back every year since. Last year I encountered financial difficulty with GW, but I have been very grateful since then, including the opportunity this year to network and meet potential global-commitment makers. Already, I travel to so many cities across the U.S. to share my vision of opportunity and I am so happy to have shared this moment with fellow GW students.

As for the conference itself…I was disappointed. This is the 38th conference I have gone to in my life, not repeating organizations-and I have audited many before. In this way, I have learned about different ways of thinking and work ethic. CGIU’s first problem is that there’s too many of us. Not that there can ever be too many commitment makers, but there are too many options available at the conference. It should not be labeled as a conference because it is not, it is more of a gathering, and is more so experienced as a publicity stunt. Many break out session were relevant, none touched into the deeper expertise of what financial modeling for your commitment should look like, what long term sustainable factors should be incorporated to make sure your cause exists five, ten years from now, or much less networking sessions to find others. The entire program is very built off a “you gain from what you put in” type of mentality and for that, only the persistent win. I have made many connections to which now I have a couple boosted numbers on LinkedIn, and a couple more friends on Facebook but altogether, the skills that I felt those around me learned were not enough to boost some of the amazing ideas these kids offered. In the future, I would love to look into the Clinton Foundation as an organization and perhaps be a part of their team.

My favorite moment will have had to be a late night at the hotel talking with some of the most intelligent people I have talked to in a while about future goals and plans and ideas, and its not so much what they say but how they say it. No matter which issue the cause addresses, it will never cease to amaze me the way people light up and speed up their pronunciation when they get excited about an idea. So for me, there is no “aha” moment or one particular speakers that stood out. But from the Freshman at Duke inventing the Cloud to Cancer to the boy who just a year ago started to Kickstarter his idea of an exercise machine under a desk, I was inspired by the passion everyone had to make the world better.


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