50 MIW honoree: Lauren VanKeulen

43
Lauren VanKeulen. Courtesy 616 Media

Lauren VanKeulen

CEO

AYA Youth Collective

 

Lauren VanKeulen is determined to find a place for every homeless kid on the streets of Grand Rapids.

The CEO of AYA Youth Collective, VanKeulen in 2021 helped engineer a merger between her organization, 3:11 Youth Housing, and Grand Rapids HQ, another organization addressing youth housing in Grand Rapids.

“Prior to the merger, 3:11 Youth Housing and HQ were both providing critical and essential resources to youth. Both organizations identified relationships, community and a deep sense of belonging as core to every person involved in this work,” VanKeulen said. “To strengthen this core value, we felt that by becoming a collective — one instead of two organizations — would truly honor those values. Through that sense of belonging, AYA Youth Collective was formed.”

AYA now provides a cohesive, streamlined approach to connect youth with services and housing resources, while still honoring each relationship. The organization is unique in its ability to provide critical resources from the moment a youth is in crisis, to identifying other core needs, to being housed, to working toward their unique goals and dreams, she said. VanKeulen called AYA’s work “crucial” to creating connection points where youth can move past trauma and begin healing.

“In March 2021, 111 youth were on a (homeless) list in our community,” she said. “Currently, 93% of AYA housing alumni have achieved stability. We hope to grow that. We want to continue to disrupt the long-term cycles of poverty and homelessness by supporting youth in generational wealth creation through living-wage employment and home ownership. We believe that this group, this community, can actually end cycles of homelessness in our community.”

Facebook Comments