For Immediate Release

Oct 30, 2023


KJ Tucker, VP of Programs

616-406-3945 ext. 2


AYA Youth Collective (AYA) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Unveil Groundbreaking Initiative

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – AYA Youth Collective (AYA) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) proudly announce a collaboration aimed at transforming the lives of vulnerable youth. Starting this fall, a dedicated MDHHS Eligibility Specialist, Rachelle Blauwkamp, is now stationed at AYA’s Drop-in Center to provide unwavering support to youth facing significant challenges.

AYA, a Grand Rapids-based non-profit, is on a mission to support 14-24 year olds grappling with housing instability and homelessness. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is committed to extending crucial public assistance, including essential resources such as food, housing vouchers, and comprehensive medical and mental health care.

In the past year alone, AYA has assisted 569 unique youth, all confronting genuine obstacles in accessing comprehensive healthcare and mainstream resources. The AYA-MDHHS partnership emerged as a groundbreaking solution to this pressing issue. Shockingly, less than 15% of youth applying for state assistance at AYA actually receive it, largely due to barriers like limited access to phones for appointments and transportation challenges.

This visionary collaboration is aimed to systematically dismantle barriers faced by youth. With an MDHHS expert now stationed at AYA, young people can seamlessly apply for benefits, handle essential paperwork, receive vital assistance, and attend appointments—all under one roof. Moreover, this initiative is set to revolutionize the way youth experiencing homelessness engage with the system, eradicating past negative experiences. The presence of a dedicated on-site caseworker will foster trust and meaningful relationships, thereby enhancing accessibility.

According to AYA’s VP of Programming, KJ Tucker, “The top three barriers that youth say they experience are fear of the system, stigma that they experienced in prior engagements with the healthcare system, and transportation. Once a young person visits AYA long enough and feels safe, we’re seeing them actually connect with providers and establishing relationships, which leads to long-term stability, especially with providers like MDHHS at the table.”

Tracey Fountain, who was then director of the Kent County MDHHS office and is now acting director of the department’s Disability Determination Service, worked with AYA to create the program.

“This innovative partnership sets a foundation for what MDHHS can further do to support and provide resources for success to young people and those who have interacted with the foster care system,” Fountain said. “MDHHS is excited to come together with AYA for the betterment of youth in our county.”

In her first week, MDHHS Benefit Specialist, Blauwkamp resolved pending issues on 15 active cases alone, swiftly addressing barriers that had prevented access for months. This groundbreaking partnership between AYA and MDHHS exemplifies how organizations can coordinate their efforts to address the unique needs of homeless youth. By tearing down barriers, nurturing relationships, and amplifying youth agency, the potential to guide them from crisis to stability skyrockets.

Organization leaders will be available for interviews the week of November 6. For media inquiries, please contact KJ Tucker at advancement@ayayouth.org or by phone at 616-406-3945 ext. 2.

If you are between the ages of 14 and 24 and would like to be connected to one of our advocates, please visit us anytime between 12pm and 5pm on weekdays, find out more at www.ayayouth.org, or call 616-406-3945.