An organization is providing a home for at-risk teenagers who otherwise would be left on their own in Montgomery County.
Rex Smith started the program for Montgomery County teenaged boys 44 years ago in a Rockville home. Started with eight young men, he estimates that since then, 500 to 600 children have found a safe place at Hearts and Homes.
The program provides shelter and therapeutic support for at-risk boys and girls. Two of them are 17-year-olds Tyrone Douglas and Jossimar Moreno.
Each of them say, no matter the circumstances under which they came to hearts and homes, they're better for it now.
“I didn't want to be here, but it was a decision from the judge. But when I first was there I was a 9th grader, now I'm a 12 grader,” one told WJLA.
“I’m applying to college, I'm looking at scholarships and grants and financial aid so I can afford to go to college and get my degree in fashion,” the other said.
Smith says many of the teens have been rejected or abandoned and carry severe emotional scars by the time they come to him.
“In my own lifetime, I've been there, I've been in those shoes,” he said.
He also knows what they need to hear to succeed despite their circumstances.
“I care enough that no matter what you do, you cannot just like my own son, you cannot make me stop loving you,” is what he tells the teens, he says.
Once the students turn 18, they'll age out of Hearts and Homes for youth. In most cases, they are either prepared to return home to their families, or they go on to live independently with a roommate, with support and guidance from staff at Hearts and Homes.