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.”


Reference: york.cuny.edu

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.

Preparing Participants for Careers


In May 2017, The Matthews House piloted Restaurant Ready, a program through the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation. In addition to teaching students transferable skills, Restaurant Ready prepares participants, 16 to 24 years old, for successful employment in the restaurant industry.


“The main goal of Restaurant Ready is to provide our students a long-term career path,” said Justin Kruger, Building Employment Skills Coordinator at The Matthews House. The program started when the Restaurant Association noticed a need in the restaurant service industry for dependable employees, along with a population of youth who are available to work.


Justin said that when restaurants were contacted by the National Restaurant Association and asked what kinds of skills they are looking for in their workers, nearly every restaurant, chef or business had the same answer: skills such as dependability, capability, communication, team work, adaptability, and the ability to receive feedback positively. The Matthews House and four other organizations in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Austin, and San Diego were chosen to pilot the Restaurant Ready program. While the other pilot programs have on-site culinary training, The Matthews House does not.


“What The Matthews House brings is a very strong commitment to support”


Restaurants teach students about the job and treat them as equal employees while The Matthews House supports the students by helping them see how they can improve, and mentoring them as they navigate the restaurant industry. Restaurant Ready primarily focuses on teaching students soft skills, but recently hard skills related to working in a restaurant, such as basic knife skills and learning about the chemicals common in restaurants, have been introduced.



Along with restaurant skills, partnering with the Larimer County Workforce Center contributes to teaching students interview skills and resume building, both of which can easily be transferred to other jobs in the future. “The training is more those soft skills, which they call power skills,” said Jerri Schmitz, founder and Executive Director of The Matthews House. “All of those work skills that are needed in any industry.” While the skills learned in Restaurant Ready can be applied to jobs unrelated to restaurants, students are learning that working in the restaurant industry is a realistic long-term career.


“I think they are really getting to understand that the restaurant industry is a viable career choice. It’s not just fast food, but working in professional kitchens is a long-term career that could provide for them and a future family.”


In the Fort Collins area there are 10 partner restaurants participating in this program. Justin said he tries to ensure a beneficial experience for both the businesses and the students placed in the restaurants by getting to know the students individually to learn their personalities and how they best operate. The student to restaurant connection is an important aspect of Restaurant Ready. “I want them to fit there,” Justin said. “I want that restaurant’s culture and mission and community to line up with that student.” As restaurants learn of the Restaurant Ready program that is dedicated to training a workforce for the restaurant industry, they can contact Justin who will then have resumes available to send. Justin speaks from experience when he said this process will save employers time. As a former chef, Justin said he recalls going through the hiring process several times and said Restaurant Ready will allow chefs to spend more time working and less time searching for an employee.


Participants of Restaurant Ready come from various backgrounds and locations in the Northern Colorado area, and Justin said there is a broad range of students currently involved in the program. As the program is adjusted on the national level to improve and grow, Restaurant Ready has the potential to be an extremely beneficial program for the restaurant industry and the participants alike.


As of 2019, we no longer have this specific program, but have expanded to offer our Job Readiness Program.

Aging Out


How does Foster Care Work?

Most people know what foster care is, however not everyone knows how the system works. Due largely in part to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), investigations into child abuse and neglect are able to be carried out by the overseeing agencies within their respective states (foster care is a state-level initiative and varies state by state). Investigations are usually the result of a report of suspected abuse or neglect. The system first started in New York City where maltreated children were rescued from the streets and placed into foster homes. The ultimate goal for every foster care system is to one day reunite children with their biological families, unfortunately that does not always happen. Foster homes provide a short or long term safe haven for youth who do not have another family member to turn to. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in the United States residing in foster care with over 20,000 youth “aging out” every year.


What Is “Aging Out”?

“Aging out” is the term used to describe all youth becoming emancipated, or fully independent every year from foster care. Youth who age out typically become of age at 18 years old or after high school graduation, but the Foster Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCA) allows for states to extend foster care at their discretion to include youth up to age 21. These youth were not in an adoptive home and were not reunited with their biological families during their time in foster care. Aging out also means the state is no longer providing assistance with housing, food, and medical care through the foster system, and the youth are then treated as adults.


Why is this an issue?

Often when a youth ages out of foster care they are not prepared to live on their own. Youth often lack the preparedness necessary to thrive in the real world– from job readiness/employment, financial stability, and education are just a few things that may be lacking from a youth’s life by the time they age out. The National Foster Youth Institute reported in 2017 of youth aging out that 20% will become instantly homeless, 25% will directly hurt from PTSD, 1 out of 2 will be unemployed by age 24, and there is less than a 3% chance they will ever achieve higher education in the form of a degree.


The Matthews House Impact

Regardless if a youth has already or is about to age out of foster care, we are here for them. Our Empowering Youth program is designed as a resource for any youth who have or are about to age out of foster care, and youth involved in the juvenile justice system; the program empowers them to develop a self-sufficient, healthy lifestyle by offering them opportunities to gain skills that will allow them to thrive independently. The Matthews House also seeks to prevent youth from repeating a negative cycle by: Providing comprehensive case management, connecting them to community resources, and empowering them to develop self-sufficiency.


The Mission Applied

The Matthews House staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure the best future for youth and families who otherwise may not receive the resources we provide. We strive to fill in any holes in the foundation of foster care to give youth the skills and support they need, and we help prevent youth from entering foster care through strengthening their family life at home. We are excited for the years to come because we know there are more people in need of our help!


References:  ChildWelfare.gov, AptParenting.com, ChildrensRights.org, PewTrusts.org


From Day One


In 2004, The Matthews House didn’t exist, but the idea for the nonprofit was just coming to life. Jerri Schmitz, founder and Executive Director of The Matthews House, had a conversation with a young man in Old Town and learned he was homeless and couch surfing after aging out of foster care. “I actually gave him $10 if he would promise me he would put more minutes [on his phone],” Jerri said. “Then we could keep in touch with each other and I could see if I could help him.”


Jerri and her social worker friend, Sara Mitchell, did research on the options available to kids who age out of the foster care system in Larimer County and found that there were no services available. To Jerri, who was a high school educator and coach in Phoenix, prior to starting The Matthews House, that was unacceptable.


In 1999, Jerri moved to Fort Collins. Soon after the move she was helping people who were struggling with various issues, including homelessness. Jerri began offering her spare bedrooms to people, resulting in 16 individuals living with her at different times over the next two years. She decided to formalize this work and wrote a business plan to start a nonprofit, using her own book proposal title “Live the Victory” as a starting point. “I had a couple of book proposals out based around my coaching, how to live life, don’t let fear keep you on the bench,” Jerri said. However, her plans to write a book evolved into something much bigger. “It boiled down to – I don’t think the world needs one more book. I need to take what I was going to write in the book and really formalize it into a program to help people.”


Jerri filed for 501(c)(3) status in 2005, began writing grants, hired Sara as the Clinical Director, and purchased a home in Old Town. The doors opened in January 2006, beginning the Empowering Youth Program. “I didn’t want it to be an office building,” Jerri said. “I wanted it to really feel like home and be that safe harbor for teens who were out there on their own. I wanted these kids to feel like they were valued and we cared about them.”


Jerri and Mitchell notified the Department of Human Services Child Welfare Department about their nonprofit designed to help kids who age out of the foster care system. The department supported their mission and asked them to manage their Chafee federal grant. They immediately welcomed 84 kids. More staff was hired to accommodate the number of youth being served, and Jerri said she began wondering about what would have happened if they had reached these kids’ families before they were placed in foster care. Taking action to help families before kids are removed from their homes led to the creation of the Strengthening Families Program in 2010.


“I felt like what I started in 2006 was helping pull kids out of this raging river,” Jerri said. “If we can start working with families when kids are younger, maybe these kids won’t end up at the bottom of the stream.”


In 2012, Jerri was asked to co-chair a family consumer council to discuss bringing the settlement home concept to Fort Collins. Based on independent research and local focus groups, it was clear the community would benefit from a location offering a variety of consolidated services. The first center opened in 2012 and the second in 2015. The idea of community taking care of community is embodied at the Community Life Centers where anyone can go to receive help with a variety of issues as part of our Building Community Program. “Our goal is to help build resiliency and build community,” said Nicole Armstrong, Executive Program Director at The Matthews House. “We really value serving the people that we have the opportunity to walk alongside. It’s an enriching experience for us and we are so thankful that we have the opportunity.” Nicole started working at The Matthews House in 2008 as a Youth Transition Facilitator when there were just seven employees.


The Matthews House’s growth has been surprising even to Jerri, who believed she would be helping 20-25 youth a year with two staff in 2006. Now, The Matthews House has over 40 full-time staff, 30 part-time, and served over 3,000 youth and families last year.


“I’ve seen our ability to meet the needs of the community,” Nicole said. “I’ve seen intentional work done to build programming that is effective in our community and continues to serve the population that we always have desired to serve.” For the past 13 years, The Matthews House has grown to serve youth, families and the community as a whole, tangibly helping the Fort Collins community.


And a conversation started it all.