Shelter From the Storm

Courage House is poised to become the state’s first home and drop-in space for homeless LGBTQ youth. We asked co-founder Brad Schlaikowski the whys and hows of opening the new space in Milwaukee.

Courage House is the first group home/safe drop-in spot for homeless LGBTQ youth in Milwaukee, and a fairly unique model statewide and nationally.What prompted you all to open it?  

My husband Nick and I decided that we needed a model like this here in Milwaukee after hearing the stories our teenage foster daughters shared with us. Stories of bullying, not fitting in, and rejection after rejection, often by their own families. We knew we needed to give these children a place to be themselves. 

We at Courage MKE believe that a child is not able to work on themselves until they are able to be themselves. Helping these children see that they are exactly who they are supposed to be and that there are so many people who love them for just that, it will help them in working through their traumas.

What support have you gotten?  

The community has been amazing. Without them, we would not have been able to purchase property in cash. People tell Nick and I how amazing it is what “we” are doing. Our response is: We may have had an idea, but it’s the people in our communities, our board, our families and staff that have opened their hearts. THEY are the one that are making this happen. 

Where do things stand now in terms of who’s using the space and how?  

We are in the midst of renovations and licensing. Our goal is to have children in their new home no later than February 2019.

How can people help support the work?  

The children that will be living in the home need to be shown what family looks like. We are looking for volunteers that can come cook a meal with the kids, help with homework, make music in our resource center with them, teach life skills or introduce them to new hobbies, or just come and “be” with them to show them just how many people care. Like any nonprofit, financial support will also always be needed, as well as donations such as non-perishable foods, household supplies like toilet paper, light bulbs, laundry soap, etc.

What do you, personally, learn from doing this work and why is it important to you?  

I have learned that the people in our communities have enormous hearts. I have learned that the job will never be done when working in the nonprofit sector. I have learned that as soon as we get this location open, we need to focus on the second, third, fourth. I have learned through phone calls from social workers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa that they want homes like this across the three states. That has taught me that, although it is 2018, parents are still turning their children away.

My entire life has been in corporate America. I’ve benefited from what it’s provided my family, but I have learned that THIS is what I was meant to do. This is important to me because these kids deserve more than a door slammed in their faces. They deserve to be children with positive experiences, instead of fighting and sacrificing just to have a meal. 

Getting to where we are has not been easy. We have learned a lot in a short amount of time. We have laughed, we have cried, but there will be no greater feeling than the day we open the front door and tell that first child, “Welcome home.”

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