Atlanta natives Ray Young and Torrie Everhart want to curtail the city’s increasing homeless population by making life-altering support and basic human necessities more accessible.
In 2018, their nonprofit organization Bridge of Light Atlanta initiated the Dignity Bus Project, a campaign launched to help transform an old, rusty school bus into a mobile outreach center for homeless and at-risk youth. Job readiness preparation, grooming stations, clothing and hygiene bags are services that will be available inside the bus.
Young initially wanted to get an RV when the vision came to mobilize support for the homeless; however, the Carey Center for Mathematics donated a small bus called a ‘schooly’ when their business closed. The Dignity Bus has had several cosmetic upgrades since it first hit the streets to deliver toys and groceries to families in need for Christmas in 2018. A mural now covers up the faded yellow paint and the inside was gutted to create space for a shower, Wi-Fi station, a clothing closet and a barber chair.
Both women knew they would have to design the Dignity Bus to maintain longevity. They attended ‘schooly’ conventions, seminars where people learn to transform school buses into homes, to acquire knowledge on how to draft a blueprint to fit the specific needs for the people they are helping transition into a stable life.
“The Dignity bus will help us fulfill multiple needs of people who really can’t reach us because they might not have a car or bus fare,” said Young, founder and strategic director for Bridge of Light.
“Our ultimate goal is for people not to become dependent on our services, but for us to help them transition out of homelessness and move forward in life,” said Everhart, co-founder and the community development director for Bridge of Light.
Young’s work as a counselor for Atlanta Public Schools and Everheart’s long history of volunteering sparked the idea to establish Bridge of Light Atlanta, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating homelessness and uplifting at-risk youth. The duo has piloted several outreach programs, such as the ‘Under A-weareness’ drive, ‘Coats and Cocoa’ and ‘Sock the Cold’, to provide socks, coats, food and underwear to the underprivileged. They also partner with local schools to educate students on financial literacy, prep for SAT/ACT, and assist with college applications.
“Homelessness hits different when it’s a kid and the number of students I witnessed living in environments that had no running water or power, didn’t have clean clothes or came to school just to receive a meal was crazy,” Young said. “My disabled mother volunteered for so many different causes and her selflessness inspired me to find as many ways as I could to give back to others,” Everheart said.
Bridge of Light Atlanta launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000, so the Dignity Bus can become fully operational. Young and Everhart hope to have the project complete before 2020.
“We would really like to hit the ground running in 2020, but donations are needed to help keep this all going,” Young said. “There are plans for a Dignity Bus 2 and we are looking forward to focusing on mental health awareness for people ages 16-24 in the next phase of projects.”
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