When Joey Lurie arrived at Place of Hope’s Paxson Campus in Palm Beach Gardens three years ago, he had little of what the nonprofit offers—hope. His parents had passed away, and his grandparents, although caring, struggled to raise the then headstrong ninth grader. Joey was doing whatever he wanted to do, and one of those things was skipping school. Often.
That is how he ended up living with Ken and Steffanie Dolch in Cottage 9. “I was scared,” says Lurie, now 18, of his arrival at the tidy home where five other foster kids were also living. “It was weird.”
“Weird” because a lot of things changed: Overnight, his typical diet of fast food was replaced with wholesome meals. Soccer practice took precedence over screen time. There were household responsibilities, tutoring and counseling sessions, fishing trips, kayaking expeditions, and seats at Dolphins games.
It was during his first week at Cottage 9 that Lurie found a new passion. He was at Rapids Water Park with his foster family when he discovered the FlowRider, a wave simulator. As he swooped across the surf on his board, “people started complimenting me,” he recalls. Lurie was hooked.
Today, Lurie is one of the top flowriders in the country. In August, he boarded his very first airplane to compete in the Flow Tour National Championships in Oklahoma City, where he won the Junior Nationals. At press time in September, he was off to the World Championships in Texas. He paid his way with money earned at Crumbl Cookies in Palm Beach Gardens, a job he’s held for the past two years. He has graduated from high school and now attends Palm Beach State College, where he is studying accounting. “Structure works,” says Lurie, reflecting on how Place of Hope has helped him forge a new path. “It can change your life.”
In 2024, Lurie will become one of the first residents at Place of Hope’s new housing complex in Stuart. When completed, the 11-acre campus—a gift from Samaritan Center for Young Boys & Families, which closed after more than 50 years in Martin County—will stretch Place of Hope’s affordable-housing safety net from Boca Raton up the Treasure Coast. The new site, says CEO Charles Bender, will allow youth who have aged out of the foster system, new mothers with babies, victims of human trafficking, and families at risk of homelessness “to move toward independence in safe, dignity-filled housing.”
Place of Hope already operates five such residential facilities in Palm Beach County, but this will be its first complex in Martin County. The child and family welfare organization, which took in its first child in 2001, offers assistance to those who have fallen through society’s fault lines in an effort to “break the cycle that holds generations in abuse, neglect, homelessness, and poverty,” says Bender. In addition to affordable housing, the organization provides numerous services to ready residents for success, as well as maternity care, emergency placement for abused children, help for families dealing with the child welfare system, and human trafficking prevention and intervention programs.
At the new Stuart property off Cove Road, the residences—dubbed the Bender Family
Village—will comprise two main buildings providing transitional housing, guidance, and support for 64 people “who need the opportunity to pursue goals, find their footing, and get ahead,” says Bender. These residents will include foster youth who have aged out of the system, homeless youth, and human trafficking survivors. In addition, a Neighborhood Foster Care cottage will house foster youth under 18 and their foster parents (similar to Lurie’s Cottage 9 living arrangement in Boca Raton). A separate duplex will provide affordable housing for new moms with young children.
The campus will also include an enrichment center offering tutoring and educational guidance, life skills and career training, and parenting and relationship classes. Already operating on-site is Shade Tree Family Outreach, which provides things like diapers, clothing, and school supplies to locals who have had to unexpectedly take in young relatives and need support.
Like Lurie, Hasan Dickinson knows the power and promise of Place of Hope. September 2022 was a low point for the then-19-year-old. A sophomore at Florida Atlantic University at the time, Dickinson recalls the week he spent bedding down in an abandoned greenhouse, using a garden hose for a shower. “I was freaking out,” he says.
It was a move born out of desperation. As Dickinson explains it, the dorm he had been
living in was being converted to freshman housing, and he suddenly found himself without a home. Being raised in foster care, he had no family to turn to and certainly no money for a Boca Raton rental.
Then he found Place of Hope. “It’s like I went from being homeless to an apartment in one day,” says Dickinson, who had been pointed toward Place of Hope by a program for first-generation college students that was helping him pay his tuition. Place of Hope offered him an affordable place to live at the Leighan and David Rinker Campus in Boca Raton, where he resides today while working full-time as an aftercare coordinator at the YMCA and honing his boxing skills in his free time. He is currently taking a semester off to work at the Y but will soon return to college to pursue a political science degree. He loves his job and is considering adding a sociology minor to prepare for the possibility of a career with the YMCA. “There’s a lot of growth at the Y,” he says.
Now 20, Dickinson is on a solid path to achieving all of his goals. “Place of Hope is a confirmation that miracles do happen,” he says. “Even when they shouldn’t happen, when there’s nothing in your life that says you should have faith, you can be transformed from nothing into something.”
Dickinson’s brush with homelessness illustrates an all-too-real struggle for so many: finding affordable housing. Bender has repeatedly witnessed how just one small misstep can mean a tumble from which there is no recovery. A broken car begets job loss, begets late rent, begets eviction… Further, he says, the single mother who ends up homeless will inevitably have her children taken away. “If we can get Mom reduced rent, parenting resources, get her back in school, whatever she needs to get her to a livable wage, we can keep families stable, keep the next generation from falling into foster care, and never lose kids to the child welfare system,” says Bender.
For children already in the system, Bender says it is important that they have a safety net in place so they can focus on succeeding and not just surviving. “These are kids who, through no fault of their own, have ended up in situations the average person can’t understand,” he says. With guidance, counseling, time, and patience, he adds, “these kids can heal and grow.”
While Place of Hope provides the opportunity for success, achieving it is up to the individual. “We’ll hold your hand, but you determine how successful you’re going to be,” says Bender. To that end, participants in Place of Hope’s programs are required to meet certain goals and objectives, like graduating from high school and enrolling in a trade program or college, participating in life skills and career courses, even mastering the soft skills that many people take for granted. “Things like a firm handshake and looking someone in the eye,” says Bender.
It’s learning all of the things, both big and small, that changes lives like those of Lurie and Dickinson. About a month into his stay at Cottage 9, during a conversation with his worried grandmother, Lurie shared a realization that put her mind at ease. “I told her that this is where I needed to be,” he says. “I told her this could be the best thing you’ve ever done for me.”
For more information, visit placeofhope.com.
By the Numbers
A quick look at Place of Hope’s impact
30,000+ Foster children, homeless youth, families in transition, and human trafficking survivors served
8,000+ Families served annually through Shade Tree Family Outreach
100% High school graduation rate of foster youth living in Neighborhood Family Cottages
365+ Aged-out or homeless youth and families housed
634+ Siblings kept together in foster care
200+ New mothers and babies housed