HOST Homes


Our HOST Home Program started in 2014. A HOST Home is a short-term voluntary placement for young adults, ages 18 – 21, who are at risk of being homeless or are currently homeless. The goal is to provide a safe, temporary, welcoming space for up to 6 months where the young adult has time to prepare to transition into independent living. Check out what one of our current young adults in the program shared with us about her experience!


What impact has the HOST Home Program had on you?

The HOST Home Program has already changed my life tremendously. It has allowed me to escape a [tough] home living situation, and has also allowed me to learn and develop skills on independent living. Doing so brought me out of depression and I am now free to pursue my interests and think about my future.


How has it challenged you to grow?

I was already somewhat independent before I joined the program, but afterwards it forced me to make decisions that I did not want to make, but needed to. Living semi-independently made it so that when I wanted to pursue something, I didn’t have to look for the approval of those who’s care I was under. It gave me space to learn for myself and create more art than I ever have before. 


What independent living skills are you most proud of learning?

I am most proud of learning how to manage all the new things in my life; from researching and selecting the best insurance, managing work hours and balancing it with my social life, and overall keeping my life organized in a messy world. I am confident in my choosing of college and what I want to do with the rest of my life.


How has it impacted your relationships with family members?

After moving out, my relationship with my [family members] immediately improved. Adults in my family now treat me with the respect I deserve because I have proved to them that I am capable of doing things on my own and taking the opportunities given to me. I can leave the house whenever I want to visit with my siblings, which has made things much easier. 


Where would you be without your HOST Home?

Like I said before, the HOST Home Program brought me out of a depression from [a tough living situation]. [The] constant cycle of strife kept me from blooming and discovering who I am. If it were not for the HOST Program, I would not be as outgoing and determined as I am now.


What would you say to your HOST family to share appreciation for them?

First off, I would say what is expected and normal in a situation like this: thank you. But it goes deeper than that. I realize that having a stranger move into your home can be scary and sometimes risky, so I am thankful for the compassion [the host home] has shown when inviting me into her home. [Their] decision to allow me to stay for a while has already had a great and positive impact on my life now and, I imagine, on my future. Thank you is only the start.

Meet our Executive Program Director

At The Matthews House, one of our greatest assets is our staff! Our compassionate and resourceful direct service and administrative staff work every day toward our overall goal of disrupting cycles of poverty and abuse. Nicole Armstrong, Executive Program Director, has been with us almost since the beginning. She started as a direct service worker herself, so she has seen all sides of working with our youth and families. Here’s a look into her experience seeing The Matthews House grow and develop since 2008!


As of March 2020 we’re proud to have Nicole Armstrong as our Executive Director!








“I have come to understand and appreciate the true value of my journey and experiences and that these are woven in the fabric of the agency. It is a complete honor to work at an agency that has been instrumental in changing the landscape of how human services are rendered in Northern Colorado.”


How have you seen the vision of The Matthews House evolve over the past 11 years?

I have had the incredible opportunity to have joined the team when it was still in its infancy and been provided the opportunity to grow professionally and personally as the agency grew. When I started with the agency, our goal and mission were to serve youth in transition. Through continued work to expand and understand the needs of the youth and families in our community, we have had the opportunity to continue to expand with intentional programming and opportunities. This has ensured our community is healthy and all youth and families feel supported and part of our community. We continue to explore and understand the needs in our community with intentional work to ensure we are honoring what is needed for the youth and family we serve.


We have 35 full-time staff now; how many were there when you started?

7 employees – I now supervise more than that!


Did you have any idea The Matthews House would become what it is today?

Oh, no… I had no idea. Our journey has been one that has been a gift to be part of. I feel respect for the journey. 


What do you find most meaningful about your work?

The youth and families we work with. For someone to be vulnerable and allow you to walk alongside them during some of the hardest times of their lives, is humbling and honoring. We often are planting seeds and sometimes we get to see them grow and other times, you don’t get to see them bloom. Some of the youth and families come for a short time and other times they stay for longer times. All of the youth and families I have had the opportunity to meet and work with bring so much meaning to my work and have truly shaped who I am as a worker and parent. 

Youth Advisory Board

About 8 years ago, The Matthews House created a Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The Youth Advisory Board works with the Department of Human Services (DHS) because the voice of the youth impact how DHS makes decisions. Our Youth Advocate on staff was youth in the system herself and understands what those involved in Youth Advisory Board are experiencing. Here’s what she has to say about the program:


What is the role of a Youth Advocate?

Youth Advocates help youth in Larimer County find their voice while developing peer leaders and improving their overall experience with DHS. Through the Youth Advocate’s role with the youth, we’re able to increase self-advocacy in the system, develop peer leadership and career skills, decrease the average placement changes in Larimer County, develop more life-long natural supports, and work with youth to accomplish goals.


What is the Youth Advisory Board?

The Youth Advisory Board is led by a group of four 16-21 year olds who want to make a difference in their lives and the lives of other youth by engaging in foster care training, DHS meetings, and community service projects.

The YAB gives youth confidence and helps them find their identity by speaking into the system to advocate for kids just like them. Members of the program have the opportunity to gain experience in leadership, public speaking, organization, and community service.


What is the goal of the Youth Advisory Board and what does the YAB accomplish?

We hope to build leadership qualities and educate each other about the different struggles youth go through and empower our youth to speak up. The youth involved have a chance to engage in public speaking and leadership training that are necessary for the youth to continue to grow as leaders.

Our desire is that the YAB members will advocate for other youth in foster care or the justice system and be leaders in our community. Hopefully the youth will be empowered to one day change legislative laws regarding foster care and the justice system if deemed necessary.


What has meant the most to you during your time with the Youth Advisory Board?

One thing that really touched my heart was the suicide awareness walk we participated in. We supported families and friends and people who have struggled themselves with suicide or ideations or attempts. We walked alongside everyone on a Saturday morning. Everyone was able to pick beaded necklaces and the color of the beads had a specific personal meaning (such as blue meant they supported the cause and green meant they struggled personally). Our youth were honest in the beads they selected, understanding that even though they were there to support our community, our community was there to support them too.

The YAB is important to me because I understand that moving forward and making changes in my life and the lives of others is crucial. I believe that engaging in new opportunities that open doors and empower youth to be something they didn’t believe they could be or doing something they only wished they could do is what helps youth find value in themselves and the world.

Executive Function & Childhood Trauma


Executive Function

Executive function is a term described as the ability to regulate goal-oriented abilities, control behavior, choose thoughtfully, and control emotions. Executive functions serve as the building blocks of cognitive abilities such as problem solving, decision making, focus, and planning. Impaired executive functions can be directly linked to ADHD as many symptoms are exactly the same. Childhood trauma can hinder the development of executive functions, affecting individuals’ self-control and goal-directed behavior. When trauma interferes with the development of executive functions, a child’s potential to succeed in academic and social settings may be damaged.


Childhood Trauma

Much of the time, youth experiencing trauma experience it repeatedly, resulting in long-lasting symptoms. Trauma can include the process of the child or youth being separated from their family in order to be placed into the foster care system. Most often, though, trauma in children and young adults is caused by abuse, poverty, and neglect.

“The most common cause of trauma we see is from repeated abuse and neglect by the primary caregiver for the child,” Andrew McKnight, Youth & Family Program Director, said. “We occasionally see youth [and] children who have only experienced trauma for a short period but more typically see [those] who have extensive trauma backgrounds.”

Although the source of their trauma may be in the past, the memories of the trauma can cause a youth to be unable to function properly because the situations have overwhelmed their ability to cope and interfere with daily life. Impacts of trauma can cause development of behaviors such as anger, violence, hyperactivity, difficulties in concentration, an inability or resistance to trust anyone, and a lack of empathy and selfish thought patterns.


The Matthews House Impact

Our staff is made up of trauma-informed, compassionate individuals who walk alongside our youth and families as they process and navigate the trauma they’ve experienced. In additional to case management with youth, we also offer educational support to parents such as practical techniques to use in the home, advocacy for foster/kin families within the system, help with transitions, de-escalation and co-regulation techniques, help finding appropriate activities for the child. Executive function damage is not permanent. Intervention programming and strong support systems can help empower and strengthen those whose lives have been affected by trauma.

More Than Just Homework Help

Homework Helpers is one of the services offered within the Building Community Program at The Matthews House. It started in August of 2013 and at first, two college student interns ran the program two days a week at one of our Community Life Center (CLC) sites. After 2014, Homework Helpers began running 5 days a week. Now, two Homework Helper Coordinators work with the students at each of the CLCs.




The purpose of Homework Helpers is to provide a safe and enriching after-school environment for students ages 8-16 to work on and receive help with homework, eat a healthy snack, and build positive relationships with other students and adults present. About 90% of the kids in Homework Helpers also have free or reduced lunch because they come from low-income families. These kids often wouldn’t get a healthy snack if it weren’t for the Food Bank donating to Homework Helpers.


Most families are referred to Homework Helpers, but the program is open to anyone as long as there’s space for more kids on the roster. Many parents register their kids in Homework Helpers because the parents cannot speak English fluently, have kids struggling in their academic work, need free after-school care, or desire that their kids have the opportunity to make new and positive friendships outside of their schools and neighborhoods.


“One of our older students, who is not very motivated to complete his work, recently scored 100% on his math test, and now he is motivated to bring his math grade up to an A! He wants work hard to raise all of his other grades, as well!” – Homework Helpers Volunteer


Our Education and Enrichment Director and two Homework Helper Coordinators try to create variety in the day-to-day sessions by offering fun, educational enrichment opportunities. Often outside agencies or groups will come in and lead these activities. Recently, 4H has been coming every other week and sharing science experiments with the kids. The local library has also come once a week to teach sewing. Through this, the students have been able to sew pillowcases, PJ pants, shorts, dresses, backpacks, and more. The kids even get to go on field trips on some of the days Poudre School District isn’t in session!


Homework Helpers provides real results when it comes to social and academic improvements. One volunteer told us she has seen such great improvements in respect and ability to follow direction, as well as an improvement in grades and academic success from many of the kids involved in the program.

Building Community

When the Building Community Program started in 2012, only one service was offered. Today, the Building Community Program offers a variety of services to include a broader population of community members. One of our directors took the time to explain more about what program has to offer the community!

When did the Building Community Program start?

Building Community really got started with the first Community Life Center (CLC) in 2012. There was a needs assessment done in the community, so a lot of partners like the Department of Human Services [and] the school district all got together and saw a need for some kind of community service. They had those groups of people go to the Midwest and visit a model called settlement homes. The model is essentially community taking care of community. They thought it would work well here, and they asked The Matthews House if we could do that.


What services were offered at the beginning? How have the services changed or grown up until now?

The first program that was there was Family to Family. That’s the roots of the CLC, and now we’ve expanded to have three family services programs. Family services include Family to Family, the Be Ready Early Childhood Navigator Program, and then CCR (Colorado Community Response). In addition to those programs comes the education and recreation pieces: Homework Helpers, GED, ESL, Best Starts for Babies, and Parent Cafés. Zumba is one recreation activity, we’ve done country line dancing, and we also have community events baby showers, family dinners, and a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s really a space where families or kiddos can find community but also take what they’ve found and then spread it.


How many Community Life Centers (CLCs) are there?

There are two, and they serve all Larimer County. We started with our CLC at Fullana and recently moved that site to First Presbyterian, and our second is our CLC at Genesis Project. The growth has been huge. The CLCs are open to anyone, so people can walk in, other agencies can send their families, people can send friends – it’s just meant to be a very all-encompassing space.




What is the main goal of the Building Community Program?

I would say the main goal would be providing a safe space and an opportunity for families to explore who they are as families and what they need to be successful.


How have you seen the program build community?

One really cool example has been with Best Starts for Babies and Parent Cafés. Both of those provide on-going opportunities for families to interact with each other, so then they become this little cohort that supports each other. We also had a young parent playgroup and those moms got to know each other so well that they gave each other hand-me-downs if their baby was a little bit older. It just happens where families connect with each other, build a support network, and then they carry that on. Even if the class is over, they now have contacts that they can take to their external community. It also creates community in that we’re partnering with other agencies, so it’s broadening our community of people. It’s a lot of different layers. There are opportunities for people to give back, volunteer and just be together. There are so many different ways that community happens. It’s fun and sometimes it pops up where we don’t expect it to.

Be a Mentor!


Through The Matthews House Mentor Program, we pair youth with adult volunteers in our community to establish mentor-mentee relationships. The purpose of our Mentor Program is to provide additional supports to at-risk youth to help them improve social and emotional development. Mentors provide youth with positive experiences to build strong relationships and instill confidence. This can look like anything from playing board games or going on a bike ride together, to going deep and talking through issues and advice.


All young people need caring adults in their lives. Many youth we work with haven’t experienced healthy or positive adult relationships. While parental support is also crucial, mentors can provide extra relational support as well as guidance on issues that youth might not feel comfortable discussing with their parents because of strained relationships or distrust. With caring, positive role models, youth can learn how to navigate tough decisions and make smart choices leading to a more successful and full adult life.


One of The Matthews House volunteer mentors is Jef. When working with his mentee, Jef understood that in order to build a meaningful relationship, he needed to identify common interests. The youth he works with loves gaming, software development, and any project that involves problem solving, such as riddles or puzzles. For his mentee’s birthday, Jef decided to set up a trip to an escape room and invited other staff from The Matthews House to help him and his youth crack the code. Five staff members happily agreed to spend their time outside of work with this young man. They had a great time and went out for dinner afterwards. This is an example of how experiences with mentors can show youth that adults in their life care about them and take interest in their lives.


The longer the mentoring relationship, whether official and organized or not, the better the outcome. By inviting natural relationships into the mentoring, adults are able to get to know their youth and the youth are able to see healthy adult friendships in action. The foundation of mentoring is to provide care and guidance to young people, enabling them to be successful in their lives. It promotes positive social attitudes and relationships.


We’re always looking for adults interested in mentoring our youth! Through The Matthews House, a volunteer mentorship is a six-month commitment and requires our normal application, interview, and appropriate background checks. Contact our Volunteer Coordinator for more information!


English as a Second Language


The basic definition of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes is simple: they are educational programs that provide students with the ability to work with a bilingual teacher to learn English. Because we live in a multicultural community, programs for individuals to learn English are incredibly important for success both economically and socially.


The Matthews House offers the unique opportunity of free ESL courses with a trained professional to help students learn necessary language skills to navigate life in our community and culture. The classes provided through The Matthews House are more vocational in nature, focusing on building skills that instill confidence and help participants thrive in the workplace, instead of taking a strictly academic approach.


Our resident ESL teacher, Jenny Stetson Strange, has an extensive background in teaching English. She obtained her Master’s degree in ESL teaching and has experience teaching English in several different countries. She recognizes the challenges involved with learning a new language and tries to make her classes as engaging as possible by using games, activities, and interactive methods to help inspire learning.


Many of Jenny’s students attend because in their workplace, learning English can give them an advantage. Speaking English can lead to promotions, as has been the case for several students already. An aspect of this is being confident in the skills they are gaining. Studies show that self-esteem plays an important part in the learning process. High self-esteem motives students to perform actively, while low self-esteem does the complete opposite.


“When she started around a year ago, she didn’t know a word of English. Now every time that we speak together in English, I know exactly what she is saying. She can also read and write in English. Her progress has been amazing to watch and I’m so proud of her.”

– Jenny Stetson Strange, of a current student


Jenny’s approach to teaching ESL has two foundational aspects: making it fun and building relationships. Building relationships with the students plays a huge part in their continued success. Jenny has close relationships will all of her students and this encourages them to work hard, as well as continue coming to classes. She often visits her students’ homes with her husband, eats with them, and is invested their lives. These relationships help the learning process by creating a bond between Jenny and her students. In the end, according to Jenny,


“Love is what teaching is all about.”



Guys & Girls Groups


Our Experiential Education program is one of the wrap-around services offered to participants at The Matthews House, which includes fun, engaging groups for the youth. Two of these are Guys and Girls Groups, which allow youth to participate in organized activities where they can connect with others and grow in areas like self-esteem, perseverance, problem-solving skills, and coping skills. The activities aim to help youth increase independent living skills like budgeting, resume-writing, and active listening, while also focusing on topics surrounding character and what it means to be a successful man or woman in today’s world.


Guys Group gives young men the opportunity to engage in relationships with peers and adult figures. This past year, for example, Guys Group spent part of a session going through some of the “top 100 things men need to know,” which upon first hearing that sounds both hilarious and very practical. Each week, the youth would try to learn one on the list, like how to start a fire or change a tire. Some of our guys also went on a snowy spring break trip to the mountains!


“When kids have these opportunities to try things that they wouldn’t normally have tried, they have a chance to find something that sparks interest or hope” – Shawn Keefer, EE Director



Girls Group challenges our female youth to better understand healthy relationships and activities to engage in. This past year, Girls Group spent ten weeks learning about the signs of human trafficking, went on hikes, baked treats, and had a good ol’ fashioned sleepover at our Youth & Family Center. The sleepover was a fun, light-hearted experience many girls had never had, including making dinner, experimenting with makeup, and braiding hair, all while discussing confidence and brainstorming their strengths.


This program serves as a base to foster friendships and support at a trying time in a youth’s life, through positive relationships and valuable experiences. Youth have the chance to be part of positive interactions with peers and receive healthy feedback from adults. Full participation from the staff and volunteers involved allows the adults to teach soft skills while taking part in activities right alongside our youth. We’re always excited to see what our Guys and Girls Groups will do next!

The CCR Program

The Colorado Community Response (CCR) Program, which is statewide, is implemented in Larimer County through The Matthews House. CCR is a prevention program that works with families originally called into the child welfare system, but ultimately not required to engage in its services. Our CCR staff take on these families in Larimer County as clients, establish goals with them, then help them work toward these goals, such as housing, furthering education, parenting skills, and child development.


The child welfare system works with families called in for child abuse or neglect. Although it’s documented that poverty and child maltreatment are often linked, oftentimes it’s not addressed. According to the Colorado Department of Human Services:


“The voluntary program connects families with comprehensive family-focused services, including case management, resource referral, home-based visits, collaborative goal-setting, financial coaching and one-time financial assistance. These services increase a family’s abilities to meet the needs of their children by promoting individual, family, and community strengths. These safe, stable and nurturing relationships allow children to reach their full potential.”

CCR monitors outcomes through quantitative and qualitative reports. Statistics are helpful to see where improvements in families’ lives are made and where more progress can be made. They particularly watch for families’ support systems, incomes, employment, housing, etc. throughout the course of working with the CCR program.


During the 2017-2018 year, 90% reported the program strengthened relationships within their family, 64% successfully met their individualized goals and remained engaged with program services, and 86% directly attributed improved conditions for their children to the CCR program. It was found that, after working with CCR, caregivers were happier, more encouraged, less worried, and less stressed than when they began.


These results show that Colorado Community Response and The Matthews House are significantly improving families’ lives in the community. It is encouraging to be able to look back and see how much progress can be made with families as they work with a support system to reach their goals. We’re grateful to work with these strong and resilient families.