Shelter organizer driven by homeless experience as youth
Mike Bambino remembers what it was like to be 13 and have nowhere to go.
“My dad was an alcoholic, my mom had died, our home life was a mess,” recalled Bambino, who owns Dare to Car-e Auto. “I wasn’t a bad kid. I’d just gotten to a place where the cold, dark street looked better than what I had at home.”
After several homeless weeks, some extended family members took him in, but that time without a home helped shape who he is and why he’s so driven to make The House a reality. A project of Karis Inc., The House will be a home and resource center for the estimated 100 teens who are homeless in the Grand Valley at any given time.
Organizers and volunteers will host the Colorama Bowling and Car Show from 10 a.m .to 2 p.m. Saturday at Freeway Bowl, 1900 Main Street in Grand Junction, to raise money for The House. There is a $20 entry fee. Bambino said the goal is to raise enough money Saturday so that The House can be ready for teens before the weather gets too cold.
By law, teens are not allowed to stay alone at local homeless shelters; they must be with other family members. However, Bambino said, many homeless teens are by themselves, and therefore have nowhere to go.
“I think there’s this idea that they’re a bunch of rebels, but the majority of them are just trying to escape abusive situations,” he explained.
The House not only will provide shelter, but will give teens access to community resources and counseling. John Mok-Lamme, Karis executive director, conceived it and, with other Karis board members, began reaching out to community members to help. Bambino said Mok-Lamme approached him “and I knew immediately what we could and had to do this,” Bambino said.
According to preliminary plans for The House, the total annual operational budget will be about $140,000 and between eight and 16 teens will be able to stay there at any one time. They would be able to stay for up to three weeks.
Bambino said organizers of The House are asking 1,000 community members to become homeless teen guardians, donating $100 per year to supporting The House. As soon as enough money is raised, the shelter could be ready within 69 days, according to Mok-Lamme.
“I’d like to say to Grand Junction, let’s get ‘er done Saturday,” Bambino said. “Let’s not go to bed at night in our comfortable beds knowing that there are teens out there who have nowhere to go.”
For more information about The House, go to http://www.thehousegj.org or call 234-1810.