The way Lucas Haus figures, it’s been five or six years since he last sat down to a proper Thanksgiving meal.
“I’m always on the move,” he said.
The 18-year-old Haus has tried Job Corps and jumped from other programs aimed at helping at-risk teenagers. Tuesday, he was at Tumbleweed, the outreach center in Billings for homeless teens, eating an early Thanksgiving dinner with a dozen of his peers.
“It’s nice to eat with good friends,” he said.
The meal, which fed about 20 people, was donated by the Village Golden K Kiwanis Club. It’s the second year the club has done it.
“We hope the kids see this as reaching out and that people do care about them,” said Don Russell, a member of the club.
For the most past, the teenagers seemed to understand.
Amber Irby, 18, who just moved from Sacramento, Calif., has been in Billings for a month. She said it had been a couple of years since she got together for a Thanksgiving dinner with “people who really care.”
“It makes me feel happy,” she said.
Tracie Musso, the street outreach coordinator and GED instructor for Tumbleweed, said holding traditional holiday events for the teenagers “is huge.”
Last month, they carved pumpkins for Halloween, and even though many were already 17 and 18, it was a total hit, she said.
A lot of them don’t even have traditional holiday experiences, she said. “It’s big for them.”
She explained that most homeless teens don’t necessarily live on the street; rather, they “couch surf,” living with friends or relatives as long as they can before having to move on.
Russell was the Village Golden K Kiwanis Club president last year and approached Tumbleweed with the idea of serving a Thanksgiving meal to its teenagers. The club already had been donating backpacks and other school supplies, so they were aware of the need, he said.
Kiwanis clubs focus mostly on building or sponsoring programs that help children. Russell said his club’s involvement with Tumbleweed was an effort to show the community that the club — made up mostly of retired professionals — was eager to help.
“We’ve got the time we can give,” he said.
Rod Svee, executive director of Tumbleweed, said his teenagers need this type of community interaction. Tumbleweed was formed in 1976 to offer homeless and at-risk teenagers crisis counseling, GED test preparation and even housing. The organization’s First Step House gives shelter to five teenagers, he said.
Svee called the teenagers “good kids, all of them” and said they simply need direction and help.
Russell said his group will continue to offer some of that help. They’ll be back next month to serve Christmas dinner.
“This community is interested in them,” he said.
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 406-657-1231.