Youth determination is at the center of our process when matching youth with hosts. In ConneQT, youth get to read the applications of hosts (in each application hosts write an open letter describing who they are and why they want to host) and the youth get to decide who they’d like to meet. After the youth makes this decision, a series of “meet and greets” are scheduled. These meetings are an integral part of the intentional matching process hosts and youth partake in in order to assure an affirming and sustainable living arrangement for both.
The ConneQT Program Manager stood in the kitchen, talking with Clara, a prospective host, when they heard the knock on the front door. Holly, her three-legged Labrador let out a sharp bark. Clara adjusted her sweatshirt, then her hair before asking, “Should you get it? No, it’s my house. I should get it.” The manager assured her that being nervous was normal when meeting a youth for the first time. The youth probably has similar fears. “Just be yourself. You’ll do great. I’m here to help guide the experience.”
They walked to the front door to find the ConneQT Youth Advocate and Engagement Specialist with R, a youth who had read Clara’s application and decided to meet in hopes of potentially living together. This was their first meet and greet where everyone gets to know each other, has an opportunity to ask questions, and get a sense of what it might look like to live together.
When the door opened Holly found Mocha, R’s scruffy emotional support dog. They sniffed curiously at each other and instantly went into play mode. Clara and R introduced themselves as everyone commented on how instantly the dogs had become smitten with one another. Clara welcomed everyone into the living room where a table full of treats and drinks were displayed on the coffee table. The remains of a bare Christmas tree stood in the corner as a fire crackled in the fireplace.
“I’m slowly getting rid of the tree one branch at a time,” Clara said, pointing to the wood burning in the fireplace. Everyone laughed, then found their spots around the table. R commented on how much they liked the house and Clara discussed some of the art pieces on the walls. Clara pulled out a dog toy—a small, stuffed cow that resembled Holly—and gave it to Mocha. “A little toy Holly for Mocha to take with her today.” The gesture instantly ignited something in R and they fell into a natural conversation that started with their love of their dogs, then migrated to topics like their mutual love of making art, interest in neuroscience and desire to meet the personal goals they’ve set for themselves.
Often times these initial meetings can be stilted, uncomfortable conversations until a rhythm is established. Both hosts and youth can be hyper self-aware, wanting to put their best foot forward. Minds go blank, the questions mulled over earlier in the day vanish in a flash of panic. Typically, the ConneQT Program Manager’s role in these meetings is to gently suggest topics of conversation, to ask questions that help flesh out a better understanding of how this potential living situation could look. The ConneQT team wants to create an opportunity for both prospective host and youth to glean what they need about the other person and the environment to truly envision what life would look like living together.
With Clara and R, the manager rarely needed to steer the conversation or suggest topics. They sat across from each other, sipping tea, the fire in the background, and fell into conversations about their daily routines, and what it would mean to share space and their lives as housemates. Holly bathed in belly rubs and Mocha sorted bones from the doggy toy box as R discussed their goals and the level of support Clara was able to provide.
This was beautiful to witness. R had been struggling to climb out of depression. They had stated that they had educational and career goals before but felt stuck. The transphobia and poor boundaries they experienced from their family were traumatic and left them hopeless. This was the first glimmer of optimism the ConneQT team had witnessed in R since meeting them.
After everyone toured the house, looked at the room reserved for the youth, and the dogs received a treat, they parted ways. Before leaving, the manager mentioned that he would check in with Clara to see how she was feeling about potentially moving forward, and the Youth Advocate and Engagement Specialist would do the same with R. Everyone was reminded that there was no pressure to commit to anything at this stage. There were still two more “meet and greets” to go before coming to any conclusion. If questions came up, Clara and R were encouraged to reach out to reach out to staff.
As everyone stepped out into the street, the ConneQT team and R waved goodbye to Clara, and thanked her for her hospitality. Just as R was about to get into the car, the manager asked, “How’d that feel?” R paused, as if taking a moment to revisit the evening in their mind, then smiled. “That was easier than I thought it would be. I liked her. I could see myself living here.”
Fast forward to today: R has now lived with Clara in ConneQT for six months. This past semester, R was on the Dean’s List at their community college and they are transferring to a four-year institution next semester. They are working and saving money and dreaming about the next chapter of their life. They stated that they feel a sense of purpose for the first time in a long time; they also reported how much they appreciate their time with Clara, going on adventures, or just making dinner together at night and talking about their day. R feels like they contribute to Clara’s home and that feels good. R said being accepted for who they are and being a part of something has made all the difference in the world.