Real Alternatives Delivers Keys to The Future
Side by Side’s Real Alternatives helps current and former foster youth take responsibility for their lives. Central to the program is providing youth with a place to call home while they learn to budget and pay bills, shop for groceries and cook, live with a roommate, resolve conflict, pursue an education and/or employment, and set goals for the future.  
“Having an apartment with nice things in it makes the youth feel worthy,” says Real Alternatives Director Bernice Saavedra. “You can see it in their eyes and it raises their self-esteem to think that they deserve a beautiful home. That mindset allows them to persevere through this transitional time in their lives.”  
Lani Taylor, of Taylorblue Design in the East Bay, was introduced to Side by Side six years ago when someone she knew was donating furniture to Real Alternatives. “It struck a chord,” Taylor says. “I have all of these clients who are getting rid of perfectly good furniture. And yet here were people who need it.” Shelley Cahan, wife of one of Side by Side’s board members and owner of Marin-based interior design firm Shelley & Co., is also instrumental in obtaining furniture donations. Both Cahan and Taylor say that is gratifying to be a part of helping these youth find joy in their homes.  
The job of curating the youth apartments falls to Real Alternatives Housing Services Supervisor Bonnie Meyer. With 31 apartments to furnish, Meyer maintains a list of over 100 items that go into each apartment. She works with designers like Taylor and Cahan to source much of the décor and furniture, however linens and kitchenware such as silverware, pots and pans, and knife sets are replaced with each new resident as youth bring those items with them when they eventually become independent and move on to their own apartment. 
“Our goal is to create a true home environment,” Meyer says and credits her crew, whom she says take great pride in focusing on the details and making sure that everything looks cohesive and intentional. According to Saavedra, “The little touches such as matching furniture, lamps, area rugs, and coordinated art are what make the apartments feel like home. Youth often walk into their new home and ask, ‘Are you sure this is for me?’” 
Witnessing the moment when a youth who has experienced past trauma enters their new home for the first time can only be described as an honor. 

Before coming to Real Alternatives, some youth had been living in their car or at a shelter. Others are being released from the juvenile justice system or are young mothers who have never had their own space that’s clean and safe for their baby. All are looking for a place to call home.
“Handing a youth their first set of keys to their very own apartment, knowing the incredibly challenging situations they are rising up from, is pretty indescribable,” says Saavedra, who says that she makes sure that each youth is the one to open the door for the first time, not a staff member. “It feels like I am handing them the keys to their future.”  
IN-KIND DONATIONS NEEDED
Do you have a gently used couch (or other furniture) that you would like to donate? Real Alternatives would love to find a home for it in one of our youth apartments, depending on the item's condition!

Side by Side's Real Alternatives moving team will pick up your donation -- making the process as quick and painless as possible! Contact Bonnie Meyer at bmeyer@sidebysideyouth.org or text 510-303-3729 to inquire about furniture donations (and please share photos of the items to be donated).

Gift cards to IKEA or Target are also appreciated as our staff supply new kitchenware and linens to each youth as they move in.