Helping girls get where they want to go

helping girls
Affirming signs like this one adorn the walls of Shepherd Hall Dorm Apartments at Vista Maria.

Nearly 500 youth will age out of the foster care system in Wayne County, Michigan, over the next three years. Many of them are girls and young women who suddenly find themselves facing homelessness because they don’t have the support, care and skills needed to thrive independently. In response to this problem, Vista Maria developed the Shepherd Hall Dorm Apartments (SHDA) program.

The program is typically 12-18 months in duration. Within the first 30 days tenants develop a personalized goal plan, which serves as their road map in order to reach their independent living destination. This includes education and employment plans designed for helping girls.

Helping girls thrive

The low-cost housing is available to girls ages 16 to 24 and is on Vista Maria’s campus. There are 22 dorm-style studio apartments. Young women eligible to live at Shepherd Hall are aging out of the foster care system or are homeless. SHDA’s single occupancy, furnished rooms include utilities and Wi-fi. Meal plans are also available.

Within 60 days of entering SHDA, Vista Maria helps the tenants set up an employment plan. Those girls who are in school are expected to have employment, working 20 hours a week. A budget is thought out.

While rent doesn’t cover Vista Maria’s costs, it does create accountability for the girls, and they have to sign a lease, just as they will when they continue on after living at Shepherd Hall Dorm Apartments.

The Vista Maria program goes beyond basic needs by offering support and learning. Residents practice independent living skills, relationship skills and substance-free living.

“The goal the girls have the day they move in is to move out,” said Angela Aufdemberge, President and CEO of Vista Maria.

“Supervised, independent living gives our young women the encouragement and support they need to achieve their dreams,” she said.

“I see these young women as a blank canvas, no matter what their past. It is an honor for me to work with them to paint a beautiful picture of their lives and assist them with their future goals,” said Heather Johnson, life coach at Shepherds Hall Dorm Apartments.

A Jim Casey Foundation study suggests there are 1,600 Michigan teens each year aging out of foster care. Another study done by Wayne State University’s psychology department showed 17 percent of Metro Detroit foster care clients experience homelessness and 33 percent are “precariously housed.” Many others fall into sex trafficking or substance abuse. Vista Maria wants firm housing, education and financial plans to be put into place to avoid these statistics.

Vista Maria is a sponsored program of Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. The sisters founded the agency in 1883.

helping girls
Heather Johnson (center), life coach at Shepherd Hall Dorm Apartments, forms a special bond with her tenants as the young women grow to become successful, contributing adults.


Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website