Group home aims to reach at-risk youth during the holiday season

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DECATUR, Ala. - The HANDS Home for Girls in Decatur is a safe haven for girls ages 10 to 17. Counselors say they're working to dismiss stereotypes surrounding group home environments.

They want people to know as long as their doors open, there's a bed for a girl in need.

"A lot of people don't know about this place," explained Taylor Aldridge, a residential counselor with the home. "It's been here probably seven or eight years now."

The HANDS Home for Girls was established to provide emergency shelter for at-risk youth in Decatur.

"They can be at risk of running away, being homeless or being incarcerated," added Aldridge.

"This is the time of year where a lot of kids are in crisis situations," said Erica Scruggs, who also works at the HANDS Home. "They're at risk of being homeless. So we just want to get the word out that we're open to receiving this type of children in these situations."

According to data collected from the 2018 U.S. Census, more than 250,000 kids are living in poverty in Alabama.

While some think of group homes as places for delinquent teens, the HANDS Home aims to restore order in the lives of disadvantaged youth.

"We go over things with them, life lessons, basic living skills. Whether it's teaching them to wash clothes, how to cook, things their parents have not taught them," explained Aldridge.

The counselors said sometimes the smallest things, make a huge difference.

"Most of the time when the kids come in from school, I'll make it my business to ask them how their day was. A lot of kids don't get that," Aldridge added. "And it's unfortunate."

Girls can live at the home for up to 21 days and there is an application process.

"While they're here, we give them group, individual, and family sessions, basic living skills, and we refer them to other resources," said Aldridge.

When their stay comes to an end, the HANDS Home doesn't just cut ties, they do quarterly progress check-ups.

Another way to ensure no girl falls through the cracks.

The HANDS Home also operates a residence for boys. Counselors said toiletries, clothing, and donations are needed around this time of year.