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05 Apr 2021

A new non-profit has become a sanctuary for young homeless women ages 18-24

By Lesley Berkshire Bradley  »  Photos by Mollie Tobias

Imagine knowing that there are over 230 homeless students in your county depending on you. Everyday. Tambra Chamberlain knows what this is like and it's her mission to help these kids.

They crash on friend’s couches or curl up in the back seat of their car. They can’t go home because they are afraid of an abusive or drug-addicted parent, or their parent is in prison. And, yet, they still get up, often not bathing or eating, and trudge to school or to a fast-food job.

“They are kids essentially raising themselves,” says Chamberlain.

Youth homelessness is not something people in rural areas like Moore County see frequently, but it is here; it is just hiding. Chamberlain is working hard to bring homeless youth out of the shadows and into a safe, nurturing home.

“When you are sitting across the desk from a kid and they tell you that they are afraid to go home, you do whatever you need to do to find the resources for them,” explains Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, an N.C. State University-trained social worker, is the go-to resource for youth homeless support. She is working at the national level, as a Board Member for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and advocating to protect youth health insurance at the state level.

Locally, she has spent the past 16 years supporting at-risk youth in Moore County Schools — currently as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Liaison — as well as on various non-profit Boards addressing domestic abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking and homelessness. She has seen it all.

Most vulnerable are the homeless young women ages 18-24. They fall into a gap with no support — they have aged out of foster care, have graduated from high school support and do not yet qualify for Medicaid. Ironically, there are no government programs to support the young women who have no criminal record, no teen pregnancy and no drug abuse problems. These young women are often working the hardest to keep their heads above water — they attend classes, have good grades, have a job, but they cannot afford an apartment, or landlords consider them to be too young to rent to them.

In 2017, Chamberlain gathered a group of people from across the community and from various churches to brainstorm solutions to this growing problem.

Thus, was born the idea for TambraPlace, offering transitional housing and wrap-around support for young women in Moore County. Housing stability is critical for these young women, providing shelter and safety.

But Chamberlain knows that a stable roof over their heads is only part of the solution. The women need trained supervision, not just a den mother.

“We are targeting the young women who are 18-24 years old with no drug abuse, criminal record or teen pregnancy,” explains Chamberlain, “These are the young women who want a better life, are resilient and hard-working.”

Chamberlain’s message resonates. In addition to the original Advisory Board, she has now mobilized a working Board of Directors, each bringing a critical skill to the new non-profit,  including an adolescent psychologist and a trained therapeutic counselor.

Chamberlain is leading the TambraPlace developmental process in a purposeful and diligent fashion. She does not want any stops and starts.

“We cannot afford to fail when we are the trusted adults. These young women depend on us,”  declares Chamberlain.

But what distinguishes this team the most is that they get into the trenches.

“One of our Board Members even drives a young woman to and from school, therapy sessions and work since the young woman does not have a license yet,” adds Chamberlain.

And, the Fundraising Chair, Cyndi Secura, herself a former foster parent, is not afraid of ‘the ask’.

“We are in the Capitol Campaign mode,” says Secura.

A generous local business has donated property in Eastwood, where future transitional homes will be built.

Now, TambraPlace needs to raise $120,000 to build one transitional home; with $60,0000 needed just to put up the walls, roof and get the house roughed in.

Secura is writing for grants (ones have already been received from Moore Women — A Giving Circle, and the North Carolina Community Foundation), reaching out to individual donors, leveraging social media and trying creative ideas like an electronic Giving Jar positioned at local businesses.

To help generate an ongoing revenue stream, TambraPlace recently launched a consignment store called Purple Palace, inside of The Design Market in Aberdeen, using a space donated by The Design Market owner.

“The story of these young women resonates with people, and people want to give back to help change the life of a young lady,” notes Secura, “Helping a young woman get stable housing, support and get into college is life-altering.”

Fellow Board members say that Chamberlain is wired to help people. Her large close-knit family has always focused on lifting each other up.

And her family stresses hard work. Chamberlain worked her way through college, and both of her children are doing the same. She expects the same from the young women who come to TambraPlace…. “it is a hand-up, not a hand out”.

Chamberlain explains that each young woman will work on identifying their individual strengths, setting life goals and managing towards those personal goals.

“Our dream is to give these young women the opportunity to fulfill their own dreams,” says Chamberlain, “That will be how we know we are successful.”

Board member and adolescent psychologist Dr. Christine Gannis sees the young women as a valuable resource for our community. She is focusing on developing the support structure that will ensure that the young women will be successful and will be able to give back to the community.

Gannis explains that learning to meal plan, budget and cook, as well as learning how to express themselves and assert themselves is key. Connecting them to healthcare, providing laptops and helping them navigate college admissions, are all part of the wrap-around services TambraPlace offers. And all of the young women will give back by volunteering at the Purple Palace store.

Every girls’ story is different, but they all want a better life, an education and to change their path.

“…for the first time I felt like I had a place to call home. I describe it as my sanctuary, because it is truly a safe place,” explains a young woman who is utilizing a TambraPlace independent transitional apartment. She is now employed, a full-time college student and pursuing a career in law.

When it came time to name the new non-profit organization the team did not hesitate...they said it had to be called TambraPlace.

“Tambra initiated this movement,” Secura explains, “She saw these girls in her office and knew she needed to keep them from falling through the cracks.”

For more information on TambraPlace or to make a donation, visit tambraplace.org

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