In many cases, a parent may prioritize their own financial or relationship issues over their children, and once those children are on the streets — sleeping on friends' couches, or even outside — they get lost in the system.
The state Department of Human Services is effective at finding homes for younger children, Forshee said, but often abandoned or neglected teenagers will look for support elsewhere.
“There is a whole population of kids and teenagers just like Sonny — they're street-wise, they know the ins and outs of DHS, and for them DHS is more of a hindrance and a boundary,” she said. “In this situation, Sonny just needed the support, just somebody to cheer him on and be there.”
Forshee said poverty and transportation issues contribute more to the city's dropout rate than anything else. For others, it's a social stigma that keeps them from school.
SKIL devotes significant resources to helping participating teenagers maintain a quality of life similar to their classmates, Forshee said.
“It's important to us that our kids don't look any different than your kids in the math classroom,” she said. “If you're using a graphic calculator, we want ours to use one, too.”
That support also includes things like organized information on health and wellness, assistance in finding a job and even supplying participants with a prom dress, she said. Program coordinators often attend basketball games and graduations just to cheer on the students.
Qualm said SKIL has pushed him to stay in school, and now he has a new focus. After graduation, he said, he's headed to trade school, so he can learn to work in heating and air.
And for Forshee, that's about as good as it can get, she said.
“These kids have a gut-level desire to be successful, a desire to do something more than what they saw happening in their own family unit,” she said.