Teenagers who escape do not qualify for underwriting. So he created a solution.


His mother died when he was 12 years old, his father was imprisoned the following year and he did not have a trusted home. So he crashed with friends or slept in the streets.

"It was dangerous and scary … but I did what I had to do to survive," said Morgan, now 19.

Some of these young people are escaping. others leave abusive homes. and many identify as LGBTQ. They are out of their own, and many end up in dangerous situations – living in the streets or in abandoned buildings.

"Most people do not even know these kids are there," said Vicki Sokolik, who helps these teens in Tampa, Florida.

Jahiem Morgan, left, with Vicki Sokolik

"There is a lot of shame that happens with the existence of unaccompanied youth without the homeless, so that this very invisible population can be hidden, hiding what really happens with them."

Sokolik was first introduced to this population in 2006 when the teenager told her about a classmate who is in danger of becoming homeless. Sokocic helped the girl, providing her with a place to live and offer the means she needed.

The experience inspired Sokolik to do more. In 2007 he founded "Start Right Now," a non-profit organization that helps unaccompanied young people aged 15 to 19 to get a permanent home, graduate from high school and move on to their next goal.

Students at risk in two counties in Florida are referred to the program by their school-oriented advisors. The program provides two homes where students can live until they go to college or start their careers. They also have access to teaching, therapy and life skills courses.

"The transformation of these children is monumental, they come so broken, they can not trust," said Sokolic. "And it's great to be happy and to find joy again, which really is their life."

The organization helped more than 200 young people and 97% graduated from high school and went to college, trade school or army.

Jahiem Morgan – who has been with the group since last year, will soon graduate from high school and will be in college this fall.

"Thank God for Miss Viki," Morgan said. "I did not have to go but go for this program."

He has great ideas for his future, hoping to be a primary school teacher, a businessman and a hairdresser.

"I think Jaheim realizes for the first time that he really has control of his life," Sokolik said. "Previously, we decided to have a bed and for the first time realize that he is the driver of his ship."

For Sokolik, this work is 24/7. She receives calls and texts from her children at any time. He wants everyone to thrive and, beyond that, wants to see and hear them.

"These are children who have said they do not matter and have not moved away from everyone," he said. "Their voice matters, everyone must know they exist, because everyone has to look for them, help them to succeed."

CNN's Meghan Dunn spoke to Sokolik about his work. Below is a version of their conversation.

CNN: What is it when a student moves to one of the homes?

Vicki Sokolik: One day, one of the young children moved in, and I sat in the dining room with another student. And I said, "You have to get up and greet the student. Do not you remember how scary he is in the house?" And she said, "Oh, Mrs. Vicki, you are all wrong, you walk in and it is clean, you know where you eat, you know where you sleep, you know how to wash It's really relief."

CNN Hero Vicki Sokolik

I have it completely backwards, because I think I'm going to college and you go in and everything is new and terrifying. But once the children are settled, there is this euphoria. Many times, it is the first time they actually have a bed that can call their own.

CNN: Your organization is much more than providing a stable home.

Sokolik: We are completely holistic. We offer everything they need, from food, shelter, education, guidance, life skills training. We know, of course, that you will remain in poverty if you do not go to military, vocational or tertiary education. What a high school diploma will earn you at the workplace is the minimum wage, and your minimum wage keeps you low in poverty. We want our children to end the cycle of poverty of generations and to be in a career, not jobs.

CNN: What is the transformation you see in children in your program?

Sokolik: One of the things my kids say all the time is that the greatest blessing the program gives them is that they can be children again. Children talk about it all year round – they really care for their family. Sometimes, he is the only one responsible for the 15- and 16-year-old family.

Everyone must have the opportunity to be a child. The bigger thing that will happen spontaneously at home, someone will put on karaoke and suddenly, everyone is singing and dancing. And for the first time, they are among people who share very similar stories and can have love and belong. And they are referred to as a family.

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