• Zach Paone

HEAL - Nashua's Youth Advocacy Board

Some of the youth at Stepping Stones are living through a powerful lesson: If you don’t like the way something works, raise your voice and ask “what can I do to change this?” And if there is a test at the end of this lesson, then Zack, Addy, Angel, and Alex will pass by a mile.

Up until a month ago, most of them had been serving on a state-wide committee of youth with lived experience of homelessness, and an itch that was deeply important to all of them had been scratched: they felt heard. They had been told their voices would matter, that they would be in the driver’s seat for change in the state, that they would be the proud representatives of Nashua in a project that already saw success in Manchester and Concord. But it all fell apart at the last minute due to circumstances beyond their control. Despite expressing themselves repeatedly on the matter, they were ignored in the end. The project, it seemed, was over.


Until Zack asked a question: “Why can’t we just make our own youth group?”

More so than many young people, homeless youth do not get a lot of positive affirmation, so they were thrilled to learn that Kathy and the rest of us at Stepping Stones have their back every step of the way as they tackle starting their own version of a youth action board. Like other youth action boards, their objective is to ensure that young people who have personally experienced homelessness are actively engaged in prevention and outreach efforts. It’s also about camaraderie, and this familiar cohort from Stepping Stones truly has something special.

In August, they held their first meeting and the positive energy was infectious as they shared ideas for projects and initiatives the group wanted to lead. Already they’ve joined several local committees and taken part in debate on major, city-wide issues. Today they held their second meeting and modeled ideal civic engagement–they voted their hearts and worked respectfully to reach consensus. Addy became treasurer, and Angel took control of the group’s online presence. Most importantly, they came up with a name for their new organization: the Homeless Education and Advocacy League, or HEAL.

It’s hard to think of a better name for this group of people. Despite old wounds and weathering many hardships, the people of HEAL decided to band together to advocate for a better tomorrow. This project is how they heal. For Zack, healing is knowing that his voice is heard by adults in power. For Addy, healing is making sure that everyone in the group has a fair say. For Angel, healing is spreading the group’s mission on social media. For Alex, healing is bringing more people like her into the fold, so the next time someone is homeless and alone, they know where to turn, and that there is a group who will speak up for them.

For the members of HEAL, healing is more than recovering from past disappointment. It’s about putting their own hands into the clay to shape a different path.

Stepping Stones is proud of these young people–their passion, their commitment to seeing this through. We are all very excited to see HEAL’s star continue to rise.


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