Abandoned horses, wild pigs, the collapse of Bear Stearns and a married woman moving back in with Mom and Dad don't seem like they'd have anything in common. Enter Mark Kroner, the new training director for Lighthouse Youth Services.
Still doesn't make sense? Well, he's the common thread.
"Battlecreek, Michigan, I was there in December," Kroner says. "They were out there in the dead of winter rescuing abandoned horses. All these people are just abandoning their houses and farms in central Michigan. They're foreclosing on them, and they leave their animals.
"They gave Michigan hunters permission to shoot wild pigs because the pigs getting out of these farms, in a generation, they grow these long tusks and long hair like wild boars."
The visit was one of many Kroner has made since leaving his position as the head of Lighthouse's Independent Living Program (ILP). He's now teaching others how to duplicate ILP's success.
"It was an animal rescue shelter that wants to combine their work with a youth shelter," Kroner says, explaining the horse references. "They really believe that a lot of these kids, if they can be part of something that matters and meaningful, can start pulling their lives together. They just brought me up to learn about the youth shelter side of things."
Evaluating existing programs, developing new ones and sharing the hard-won wisdom of helping teens become adults is what Kroner now does full-time for Lighthouse. His first and most important task is sharing information.
"There are several of us here who have this longer picture," he says. "I can tell things that we've done; it's not something I'm hearing about -- it's something we've actually done. I think that's what makes it real. I ran it for 20 years."
What many government and social service agencies are just now struggling to understand is that self-sufficiency isn't easy to accomplish.
"People all over the country are realizing that we cannot expect youth to be self-sufficient at 18," Kroner says. "It's not happening anywhere. We've got to give these kids more time to grow up."
Teens in foster families or group home settings turn 18 and "age out of the system" that, for many, is the closest thing they've had to a family. Even young adults who have a "traditional" family on which to depend aren't financially and emotionally independent until their mid to late twenties, according to Kroner.
"They're crash landing," he says. "They're moving away, losing their jobs and moving back home. Or a woman gets married, moves away, her husband leaves her, she can't afford to living on her on with her kids. She'll move back in with her mom and dad.
"Americans are in transition a lot more. We're going to see a bunch of people from Bear Stearns that are going to be in transition for the first time probably in their family's history. They're going to be losing jobs, money, everything."
Kroner laughs about the wild pigs, but he gets serious when he talks about the increasing homeless population. More homelessness and fewer resources will make it even harder for "aged out" teens and young adults who don't have the necessary survival skills.
"I think that we're going to see something here in the next several years that we haven't seen since the '30s," he says. "I'm hoping this doesn't come true, but my gut tells me that you're going to see people that have worked for generations, that everything about them has been what we want an American citizen to be, turning up in homeless shelters because their life just crashed around them.
"Right now you've got whole communities (where) 50 percent of the houses are empty. It's really crazy stuff." ©
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