Tammy DeGarmo was working in the first-floor offices of Project 16:49’s new facility on Janesville’s north side when uproarious laughter filled the home.
Curious, DeGarmo followed the sound until she found its source. A few of the nonprofit organization’s employees and five young men sat around a large table facing off in a game of Monopoly.
The five men had been struggling, unsure of what’s next in their lives, and the simplicity of a board game in the security of the new facility brought them joy, said DeGarmo, Project 16:49’s executive director.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “It was lovely.”
The recently opened facility at 2911 Carrousel Lane is a home that can serve up to eight young men looking to transition out of high school into whatever’s next.
While Project 16:49 officials call it a boys’ home, it technically serves men 18 to 21. DeGarmo hopes it can one day help 16- and 17-year-olds, as well, she said.
The facility serves as housing for young men without a permanent place to stay. It’s part of the nonprofit’s mission to serve Rock County’s unaccompanied homeless teens.
Many of home’s residents are in charter schools trying to wrap up their high school educations. Many come from homes filled with conflict where school and family aren’t priorities, DeGarmo said.
The men work with case managers who help set them on the right paths, such as by helping them find jobs or apartments. They’re allowed to live in the home for up to about 18 months, though the average stay is expected to be six to 10 months, she said.
“They’re wanting to do something to change their lives, so they’re here,” DeGarmo said.
The nonprofit organization for four years has operated a Beloit facility for young women called Robin House. Residents always asked, “What about the boys?” DeGarmo said.
“Obviously, it is needed,” she said of the new facility.
It houses five men, and two more considering joining less than a month after the home opened.
Before looking to open a facility for men, Project 16:49 first made sure Robin House had the necessary funding, organization and partnerships, DeGarmo said.
In September, the nonprofit got a great opportunity.
Goshen Children’s Home had occupied the residence in Janesville, but it closed in September. The group donated the building to Project 16:49, and the nonprofit opened it as a facility for young men March 22, DeGarmo said.
“We got very fortunate in finding the place that we did,” she said.
The home has eight beds in four double bedrooms, giving life there the feeling of a college dorm. The facility is big enough that the nonprofit relocated offices onto its first floor. The nonprofit increased staffing so it’s monitored 24/7, DeGarmo said.
A federal grant helps Project 16:49 help operate the home. The nonprofit is running a fundraising campaign that includes naming rights for the facility.
Getting the licensing that would allow minors and young men to live in the same facility is difficult, DeGarmo said. Project 16:49 officials are working with state legislators on statutory changes that would make it easier for the facility to serve 16- and 17-year-olds, DeGarmo said.
The younger the boys and girls served, the sooner the nonprofit can get them the help they need to get their lives on track. It’s often unaccompanied homeless teens who are the victims of fraud, manipulation and exploitation, DeGarmo said.
In the meantime, DeGarmo feels blessed the organization can finally serve young people who have the same dreams, goals and abilities as anyone else but don’t always have the same opportunities.
The home allows them to improve their situations before moving on, and, if experiences at Robin House are any indication, the men will be delighted to return for visits, DeGarmo said.
“It’s just a big, beautiful extended family,” she said.