An environmentally-efficient youth home provides more than shelter

Home isn’t just a roof overhead. It’s the place where our humble beginning blooms, where we learn the basics of eating and walking and helping out with daily chores. It’s the place where we learn bigger things, like how to love, how to provide, and how to find purpose in the simplest duties to ourselves, to others, and to our surroundings—qualities that we can call upon when we spread our wings in an effort to reinvent the very word home wherever we go.

The Tom Roy Youth Guidance Home in Missoula is the beautifully crafted nest that caters to the needs of our community’s young adults who are in need of a safe haven for healing, whether it be dealing with abuse, neglect, emotional trauma, or the other scars life can leave on us. This group home aims to assist 16-to-18-year-olds, both girls and boys, who are aging out of the foster system and who need a long-term place to call home.

“The purpose of the Tom Roy program,” said Beth Cogswell, executive director of Youth Homes, “is to work with the youth to give them independent living skills, so all the kids we serve in this program are required to have a job and they’re required to complete their high school education.”

She described the process of encouragement and companionship along the way—helping them develop job skills, helping them complete their required education. “We teach them things like managing a bank account, [and] we require them to save a percentage of what they earn at their job, and that money is to be used for their transition to adulthood for things such as their first apartment or a car. We are hoping to teach young people about interconnectedness—learning life skills to become independent while also leaning on the guidance and support of others to become part of this thriving community.”

For many of the young adults, working at the Youth Farm, located behind the home and operated in conjunction with Garden City Harvest, is their first job or responsibility. The farm is mostly grant-funded and provides an accessible and practical opportunity for our young adults to unfold into the people they’ll become. They are learning to nourish themselves while providing that same nourishment to community members through community-supported agriculture and hosting meals for seniors.

“The kids really benefit from this experience because they see the results of their work in the whole process from start to finish. They find they are really proud of it,” said Beth. The farm is also one of the many features of the Tom Roy Youth Guidance Home that encourages and educates youth to be environmentally aware. 

Four years ago, the home was constructed and later awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) “Silver” status by the U.S. Green Building Council. The certification was achieved by using local materials as well as non-toxic paints, adhesives, carpets, and sheet flooring products, among other materials. The home also sports a high-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, energy recovery ventilator furnace, and dual heat recovery ventilator systems. What’s more impressive is the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 64, falling considerably lower than the rating of most existing homes. 

But the energy that is saved in the Tom Roy Youth Guidance Home is made up for in human energy, by way of its youth learning from each other and developing a camaraderie among themselves and the supportive staff who guides them into adulthood. The home was built with quiet moments of privacy in mind as well as adequate space for dining together and other social interactions. With the mountains onlooking and the hope of tomorrow planted in the soil of their farm, the promise of the future is budding with possibility.