New youth shelter program director comes full circle

Foundation2 Emergency Youth Shelter program manager Shelby Holsapple poses for a portrait at the Cedar Rapids shelter. The shelter provides housing for youth ages 11-17 and is the only shelter of its kind in Cedar Rapids. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Shelby Holsapple says working with teenagers is her “calling,” so she didn’t mind that her new position took her back to where her social work career began.

Holsapple started at Foundation 2 in July as a program manager for the Emergency Youth Shelter, which provides temporary shelter and support services for youth ages 11 to 17. However, she was no newcomer to the agency. She started in her first job after college as an overnight youth specialist.

Holsapple, 31, has worked in various other Foundation 2 departments for the past eight years as a full or part-time employee. She then left the agency for about three years and began working as an investigator for a criminal defense law firm. She then worked with adults for the 6th Judicial District Department of Corrections as a Community Treatment Coordinator.

Holsapple, who grew up in Oregon, started out majoring in education. But while attending Montana State University in Bozeman, she realized that while she wanted to work with young people, she didn’t necessarily want to be a teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human services.

Social work is a broad field that would allow her to connect with young people, advocate for them, and help them learn to advocate for themselves.

“I feel like I can still make a difference with the youngsters… Go see them early before they have adult issues,” she said.

Holsapple can relate to children because she was in foster care when she was 3 and wasn’t adopted until she was 7. She was taken from her biological parents when their parental rights were terminated due to drug addiction.

She was lucky to be in a foster family with good people and she and her brother, who was 8, were adopted by a family and they stayed in Oregon.

She usually doesn’t share her personal story with the kids at the shelter because she doesn’t want it to be about her. But Holsapple said she would share it if the situation warranted it.

Working at the shelter suits her well, as as a manager she can work on the business side and plan for the future, but she can also interact with the children and find out what they need during their stay.

The shelter, which is the only one in Linn County, provides a safe and stable environment for young people who currently do not have one. This is a temporary situation until they are reunited with their family or a foster home is found.

“A lot of kids who are at the shelter are here through no fault of their own,” Holsapple pointed out. “Some have suffered trauma, their parents are in prison or in treatment for drug addiction, cases of abuse and neglect.”

They also serve young runaways, homeless or “couch surfers” and children who have been referred by the agency’s mobile crisis unit, school districts, the juvenile justice system, or those under the shot by law enforcement.

The 17-bed shelter is staffed 24/7 and young people receive food, basic needs – hygiene and some clothing – as well as life skills classes, group counseling and they also have recreational activities, Holsapple said.

Most young people are still attending their schools and if they are not enrolled in a school, there is a shelter school program taught by certified teachers.

Holsapple said the young can usually stay for up to 21 days. Some stay longer if they are involved in juvenile court or awaiting law enforcement and are waiting for a bed to become available in residential treatment or foster care. Case managers will create an individual care plan for each child.

Census numbers for the shelter were down during the pandemic and they had staffing shortages, like many agencies, but now the numbers are rising, Holsapple said. They have on average about 10 to 12 children per month.

From September 2021 to August this year, the shelter provided temporary accommodation for 107 young people.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com