Ivelise Markovits Makes It Her Mission to Find Community For Homeless Youth
Ivelise Markovits began her career as a placement officer for the Los Angeles County Probation Department and was responsible for finding residential treatment facilities for female wards of the court. Frustrated by the difficulty of placing teenage girls in foster care, she founded Penny Lane in 1969. Named after the upbeat Beatles song, Penny Lane has grown into a multi-service organization that serves 3500 children, youth and families and employs over 500 full time social service providers and support staff.
Located in Southern California, the organization offers residential care, transitional/affordable housing for former foster youth, foster care and adoption services, family preservation and wraparound services as well as a mental health clinic.
Back in the 1960’s as a young, Puerto Rican idealist and feminist, I became a probation officer. Ferrying young girls to juvenile hall to be incarcerated I would ask; “what did you do to find yourself in this position?” It turns out most of them were homeless; escaping neglect and abuse with nowhere else to go. This broke my heart and I felt I had to do something. I consulted with my own mother who encouraged me and gathered a group of friends. We pooled our meager funds together and started a residential group home. It was a labor of love as we didn’t have money for anything, including staff, so we did the cooking, cleaning and everything else. Now almost 50 years later residential is just one of several programs that we offer. Instead of just 13 girls we now provide services to over 6,000 children, youth, and families per month. My mother is smiling down at me as I count myself so fortunate to have grown my dream into such an impactful agency.
Housing in California and especially Southern California is expensive and the regulations for low cost housing are numerous and quite stringent. It has to be a labor of love because it doesn’t make sense economically. Single young mothers with small children on welfare are the poorest segment of our population. In addition many of these girls have been abused, exploited, or trafficked. In the modern economy the women able to find employment often are paid far less than men performing the same jobs. There are also items beyond “need.” Yes, they need shelter and food but they need so much more. Housing must have services attached to be successful such as mental health, counseling, life skills development and mentors. Basically these women need to learn what they were never taught: self-respect, self-care, independence, how to be productive members of their community, find and keep a job, to love themselves, to become educated and ultimately to find strength and inspiration from within. Statistically, without intervention, intensive services and wrap around programs these abused children become abusing parents. What we’re doing is changing that story and breaking the cycle of abuse by providing role models and an environment that supports these girls. We want to empower them to achieve their hopes and dreams.
With thousands of children and families, our success stories are countless; but Princess’ story is a perfect illustration. She faced many challenges with a volatile childhood and at 18 found herself homeless. Our Transitional Housing Program gave her a home and more as it provided her with a path to re-engage. She was able to earn her high school diploma, get a job, enroll in college, earn her Associates Degree and now she’s at Cal State Northridge pursuing her Bachelors. We took a young girl without hope and with love, determination; support and time gave her an opportunity to fulfill her potential.
There is a family; a couple with three children, who were living in their car until we were able to house them in our Moonlight Villas apartments, one of our permanent supportive housing projects. The parents got help to find employment, the kids are in school and doing well and now they have a home where they are all together. They know security and safety.
One young boy who came to us had been blinded as a result of the horrible abuse he had suffered. Through our Adoption Promotion and Support Services he has found a stable and loving home where he can thrive. Annually we are able to place 30-40 children in permanent adoptive homes so they can know love and be part of a family.
A former client in our Family Preservation Program escaped domestic violence and was able to keep her children with her. She later found the time and the courage to go back to school and get her Master’s Degree and is now employed by Penny Lane Centers working in our new Relative Home Assessment Services program where she can now “give back” and help other families.
One of the young ladies who lived in our Transitional Housing Program finished her education and is now working for a public relations firm. She has not only become capable of caring for herself but has become an ambassador for Penny Lane as her employer is now very actively involved with Penny Lane and our families.
It’s stories like these that are the reason we are here and it’s what makes me get up every morning.
I’ve been so lucky to have talented and caring people to work with us and to grow our organization to meet the ever expanding needs of the underserved. From our humble beginnings, we now offer services for every age and every stage of life. Expectant mothers can find services specific to them through our Partnership for Families program. We continue to pioneer working with resource families and kinship care through our Parent Academy. Families at risk of falling in to the social services system or of even losing their children can get services through our Family Preservation and Intensive Services Programs. We care for children directly through our Foster Family Agency, Residential Services and Adoption Programs. As children “age out” of these programs our Transitional Housing and Services Programs fill the gap. Homeless youth can take advantage of our Drop in Centers where we give them a hot meal and try to help them find employment and housing. In addition we have permanent supportive housing and vocational and work experience programs. We offer a myriad of mental health services through our Mental Health Clinics to help youth and families navigate to success and meet ever evolving circumstances. We provide LGBTQ education through our Embracing Identities Program as well as produce an exceptional advocacy and educational conference annually called EDGY (Embracing the Diversity of the GLTBQ Youth and families). We continue to develop affordable housing with our newest project in Lancaster which will house homeless veterans and families. Recently, we started a substance abuse treatment facility for youth as well as an outpatient and intensive outpatient program for youth and adults on the journey to recovery.
All of these programs were developed out of needs we identified and out of our commitment to help and create change. Since we opened our doors in December of 1969 we have been partners in our communities as we keep expanding, evolving and pushing the envelope to meet the needs of those we serve. We couldn’t do it with the support of people like you. This is our passion, our conscience, our dream and we hope to continue meeting these needs for another 50 years.
We are always looking for people that want to make a difference! We need people willing to volunteer and help with our events, mentor our kids and families, feed youth at our homeless drop in center, help people apply for and find jobs and so much more. How do you want to help make a difference? As a nonprofit we must raise money each year to fill in the gaps in our services not covered by governmental funding. This money helps us buy diapers, clothing, jackets, bus money, phones, computers, furniture. We are constantly looking for donors. 96% of all cash donations go directly back in to services to help people. Whatever you can give is appreciated. We appreciate every person’s contribution be it money, your time, your energy, or even if you help us to connect with others who can help. Being a part of Penny Lane can change your life.
For more information about Penny Lane, go to www.pennylane.org/