Meet the Youth Action Hub

Natalie Garcia (R) accepting her award and Stacey Violante Cote (L), of the Center for Children’s Advocacy. Photo: Gary Lewis

If you were at the Reaching Home Celebration Dinner and Housing Awards you were lucky enough to meet 25-year-old Natalie Garcia, a researcher at the Youth Action Hub in Hartford, CT.  She was honored with the Carol Walter Supportive Housing Tenant Award. (You can watch Natalie’s acceptance speech here.)

The Hub, a two-year old program housed at the Institute for Community Research, is a center for research and advocacy on youth homelessness. For the youth researchers that work at the Hub, their work is deeply personal. They all have experienced homelessness or housing instability and want to use what they learned to help others.

Below we introduce you to four of the current researchers at the Youth Action Hub. Smart, resilient, and dedicated to making it easier for the young folks in Connecticut that are struggling like they once did.

A big thanks to our grantee partner The Partnership for Strong Communities for collecting and publishing these essays. And our gratitude to the members of the Hub for sharing your lives with us.

Natalie Garcia

If we want to end youth homelessness, we need to be able to connect with youth as if we were in their shoes. Because all of us at YAH have previously been those youth, our perspective helps to inform our research. Because we are peers, we have been able to establish strong connections with youth experiencing homelessness. The value of these connections is tremendous and has been crucial to our journey to end youth homelessness. Read Natalie’s story



Angel Cotto

Raised by a single mother, our family struggled a lot, and as the oldest sibling, I’ve had to work harder than most people my age just to help my family to get through each day, working part-time jobs after school or on weekends. My mom is really committed to making sure we get an education, so she makes sure I also work hard in school, and I was just accepted to college.

It was hard, because we moved a lot when we struggled to pay rent, and my siblings and I would sometimes have to stay with relatives or friends. But there were always people in my community going through similar problems or worse. Because of this, I’ve always felt a need to help others, to better my community and to give back. It has always given me joy to help people in need, and in Hartford there’s no lack of people who could use a helping hand. Read Angel’s story


Artemis Fontaine

I was once homeless. Eighteen years old in the dead of winter, all my belongings in my car–everything I needed daily in the front seat, all my clothes in the backseat, everything else I needed in the trunk, and the rest of it in a box in my mom’s closet. Needless to say, it was hard. Holy heck, it was hard. I met a lot of people in a similar situation while I was floating around from house to house struggling to get enough to eat, constantly looking for work I could hold down while trying to keep it secret that everything I held truly dear lived in my glove compartment. And with those people who knew my secret, the ones who were struggling like I was, I realized some of the most powerful camaraderie was borne of our shared struggles. Read Artemis’ story


Jay Perry

I grew up in the DCF (Department of Children and Families) system. I was abandoned by my parents when I was only two months old because I was really sick, and I was placed in a foster home. Throughout my childhood and teens, I was placed in foster homes and then moved to new ones because a lot of the foster homes were short-term and because I still had some medical problems and required special care. I liked some of my foster families, but sometimes it was harder for me to adjust, because it was a new environment, new people, new everything. Read Jay’s story

Melenie Serrano

I’ve always been a joyful person, even when things hit rock bottom. I’ve always tried to see the silver lining of situations no matter what was happening. We were living in these beautiful apartments in New Britain. We were one of the first ones to move in. They were called the “projects” but they didn’t look like any projects; they looked like condos. They were just beautiful. Then in July 2014, my mother lost her job. Read Melenie’s Story


Learn more about the Youth Action Hub:

Check out their website and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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