Born and raised on the east side, Annette Gibson is a proud Cleveland native and the founder of Reliable Hearts, an independent 501 (c)(3) organization established in 2016 to provide transitional housing to Cuyahoga County youth who aged out of the foster care system. Gibson describes Reliable Hearts as “a local movement of leaders that are passionate about making healing and thriving a priority in the home, community, and all aspects of life for youth and families.”
Responding to the various changes and challenges in Cuyahoga County, Reliable Hearts has evolved from its original mission in scope and breadth. Continuing to offer support and referrals for housing, they have added basic skills programing and education services for youth in grades sixth through twelfth, parental support programs, and services for single parents. Gibson clarifies that Reliable Hearts’ focus is “spiritual support, healing, growth, and economic development for all underserved youth and families, not just those in foster care.”
Gibson’s personal history played a large part in the creation and continuing efforts of Reliable Hearts. Having experienced the traumas of parental suicide, the death of a beloved caregiver, and generational domestic abuse, she embarked on a passionate mission to help youth and families struggling with similar traumas.
Believing that if families are healed, communities will heal, Gibson vowed to “find ways to help others and make their lives better.” From this belief and from her determination to help others heal as she had been able to heal, Reliable Hearts was born.
Her work in the foster care system began when she became acquainted with one of her oldest daughter’s substitute teachers, who had come out of the foster care system. “She had been in thirteen different foster homes; I truly didn’t understand the depth of the foster crisis, until I met her,” Gibson shares.
This new perception of a foster care crisis, together with her understanding of the damage done by her own early life experiences, led her to see the likelihood of struggle and unrest for youth and families in the foster care system.
When she first secured housing for Reliable Hearts in 2016, the reality of what foster children and youth from her community needed became more apparent. Gibson learned that their needs were indeed much greater than just housing. Many of the children lacked basic life skills. “There is no manual for life and parenting,” she says. “People need to be taught skills so that they can use them themselves and teach others.”
To help fill that void, Reliable Hearts continues to refer and assist with housing but has shifted focus to life skills and parenting education for the community. This May, for instance, they will offer life skills training for sixth through eighth graders for thirty-one weeks, ending in December. The majority of participants are from the Collinwood area, where Reliable Hearts is located.
Also in May, the organization will offer a grant-funded program for middle school students, focusing on depression. Speakers from Reliable Hearts will travel to 15 schools within a 10-mile radius of the Reliable Hearts building, talking with students about depression awareness. Gibson hopes to help students become involved in Reliable Heart programs from which they might benefit. Moreover, students who feel they are indeed suffering from depression can be referred for appropriate therapy.
Another initiative, Parent Cafe, begins in June and will serve 75 families, 25 parents in each of 3 sessions. Participants are often teen parents, as well as parents of children currently in foster care. “Becoming a parent is life-changing,” Gibson explains, and “these courses will offer support and information that can make the transition to parenting more manageable.” All Cuyahoga County residents are invited to participate, and Reliable Hearts can offer transportation assistance to underserved families.
Gibson and her crew at Reliable Hearts are proud of their efforts to “connect and educate youth and families who seek to break adverse transgenerational cycles and develop the capabilities to improve themselves and our community.” They work hard. But they can’t do it alone.
Reliable Hearts is funded through grants and donations. They are excited to host a community sidewalk sale as a fundraiser on June 5 and 6, 2020. All profits from the sale will help fund their programming. To learn more about this and other upcoming events, to make a donation, or to learn more about their programs, visit Reliable Hearts.