Cover Image: If You See Them

If You See Them

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Member Reviews

I currently work at a community college that has two early college high schools on campus. So I was interested in this book to help me become more aware of the population that I work with at my library. I have to say that it really opened my eyes to the kinds of barriers that unaccompanied students face…in so many different areas. Housing, food security, applying for jobs and college…the list goes on an on. I appreciated that this book explains those barriers and shows how the author and her organization works to help combat them. Reading first hand stories from the kids themselves was very powerful and insightful. It has helped broaden my views and I see my job and higher education a little differently know. I don’t know how many students at my campus are unaccompanied youth, but the lessons learned about empathy, compassion, and service to others is universal.

The part that I struggled with was the side where the author shared about her family life and personal experiences. I felt like it took the focus away from what the book is really shining a light on. However, the element about being a parent with a child who suffered seizures, the journey to find treatment, and how if affected her family would make for a compelling story. It would have benefitted from having a book of it’s own to fully expand on that experience. I think there is a completely different audience that would be interested to read it.

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I appreciate the work the author is doing for youth homelessness. It's an important one and deserves the attention she is giving it. Though it seemed like throughout the book, she began to better understand the nuances of helping these kids, in the beginning, the tone/her approach felt a tad pushy and self-serving. The latter which she admits was something that initially drove her to help but became secondary as she heard and encountered more and more first-person stories.

The stories are what drove the heart of the story, and while I think she was further trying to personalize the book with mentions of challenges with her own daughter, I wasn't able to connect in the way I had hoped. There are definitely valuable nuggets within the content of the book, and uncomfortableness to navigate to see a wider perspective, so I think the author achieved that.

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"If You See Them" sheds light on the crisis of unaccompanied youths; homeless children who not only lack a home but lack any committed adults to help them navigate their way to adulthood. It's told from the perspective of the author, the founder of a nonprofit called "Start Right, Now" (SRN). But it is filled with case studies and testimonials from people who had lived as unaccompanied youths and were helped by the services SRN offers.

I found the book engaging and appreciated hearing the firsthand accounts of how people came alongside these young people to help them get ahead in life. I will say though that there seemed to be a good deal of repetition at times and because there were so many case studies shared, there were a lot of names (both of youths and their mentors) to keep track of, so I did find that confusing at times.

Overall, though, the story was an inspiring one, and I truly enjoyed reading about someone who saw a problem and set about trying to solve it rather than turning a blind eye. Kudos to Vicki Sokolik and all that she and her team have accomplished to help these kids.

Thank you to the author, Spiegel & Grau, and NetGalley for an advance review copy.

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Thank you to the publisher for this advanced digital copy! 2.5 rounded up. Vicki Sokolik writes this memoir-esque telling of her journey starting a nonprofit for unaccompanied homeless teenagers while interspersing their own voices and stories to raise awareness of the barriers they face to education, employment, and economic security. The first 25% of this book was unbearable and reeked of privilege with little self awareness, but as the book went on the tone improved and I became invested in these kids stories. By the end, I did feel I had learned a lot about the issues Vicki has worked to raise awareness around and was very impressed by her work. Vicki does start the book telling more of her own story and as the book goes on she slowly includes less of her own personal life in a way that felt inconsistent, but I also think this is why the tone of the book improved, so I did not mind the lack of cohesion too much. I think this would be a great read for someone who is unfamiliar with homelessness and the social issues surrounding it as it depicts a unique problem within the issue of homelessness and felt accessible language wise.

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Although this is of necessity rooted in the US and indeed Florida, with different states having different laws and support systems, I'm sure a lot of the basic idea of this book - that there's a huge number of young people out there who are invisibly homeless, sofa-surfing or living in unsafe and temporary accommodation who don't get the sort-of-support you get within the fostering and care systems and need help - would hold true in the UK and elsewhere, too.

Sokolik has made it her life's work to support these young people, given impetus by her son making a friend who was in a desperate situation. She has even changed laws in Florida, alongside the young people she's supported. There are stories of various young people in their own voices interspersed with Sokolik's narrative as she navigates supporting both them and her daughter who lives with epilepsy, ands although there are things which are hard to read - of course - the main message is of positivity.

Having been doing this for a couple of decades, she's able to share longer-term outcomes, which helps, though with honesty that there is a lot more to be done, and in other states and countries, too. An inspiring and honest book I was glad to have read.

Blog review published on 16 March 2024

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If You See Them: Young, Unhoused and Alone in America is an incredible, unforgettable book. At once heartbreakingly sad and inspiring, it tells the stories of young people who have overcome adversity that most of us will never have to endure, as well as the story of the Florida-based non-profit which gave them a chance, and the woman behind it.

In her book, founder of Starting Right, Now (SRN) Vicki Sokolik details how she first became aware of the largely hidden phenomenon of unaccompanied homeless youth through a classmate of her son's, and how this set her on a path to help as many young people in similar situations as she could - not just by giving them a leg up, but by battling to change the systems which leave them vulnerable and doomed to stay trapped in the cycle of generational poverty. She highlights how these young people fall through the cracks of society because they are not living with their parents, but they have not been formally removed from them, thus leaving them outside of the foster care system. What support is available for them it is often poorly signposted, resulting in the students who need it most being unaware that they could access it.

Sokolik talks without judgement about the impossible choices her students have felt compelled to make - from stealing and drugs to survival sex work - because they live in a society where they have no legal agency and no one to advocate for them. I was shocked to learn about the issues Sokolik encountered while trying to help her students - affordable housing programmes which did not accept minors, food benefits and health insurance which they have no legal right to, and a minefield of procedures and protocols that they are simply not equipped to navigate alone.

By far the most affecting parts of the book are the SRN alumni's stories - told by Sokolik and in their own words - but these accounts are grounded in indisputable data, which makes for grim reading.

Sokolik is not afraid to admit to her own preconceived notions about homelessness, and to her naïvety with regard to the 'working poor', that section of the American population which works hard and yet survives pay check to pay check. Sokolik refers to her own thoughtless privilege throughout the book - she grew up very wealthy and had the luxury of being able to stay home and raise her own children thanks to her husband's successful career - and I am sure that she hopes that some readers will recognise themselves in her descriptions and reflect accordingly. Though I cringed at some of Sokolik's reactions to people and situations she encountered when first setting out on her mission, I appreciated her candor in not trying to paint herself to be some kind of saint. I've seen some reviews say that they felt that the author's tone was patronising, and that the references to her family's wealth and connections were gauche, but - if we want the most privileged members of society to use their influence to benefit the less fortunate - I don't think that we should be too critical.

It was satisfying to see the author herself go from wealthy white saviour who got a kick out of donating a few Thanksgiving dinners to tireless advocate; as SRN grows and evolves, we see her goal shift from wanting to help people to wanting to get them to a place where they didn't need help. She has near bottomless reserves of empathy for her students, as illustrated by her passion to not just ensure that they have their basic needs met, but to provide opportunities to develop their skills and talents, and to achieve insights about themselves that will allow them to believe in their own potential as much as she does. The love and pride which Sokolik feels for her 'kids' shines through the book, whether they are graduating college or just staying out of trouble at school and starting to trust again.

Thank you to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau for the opportunity to read and review an ARC of this book.

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A fascinating must-read about an organization that has found a way to support unaccompanied homeless youth in Tampa.

Vicki Sokolik is the founder and executive director of Starting Right, Now (SRN), a program in Florida that helps unhoused students (teenagers) considered “unaccompanied homeless youth”. The organization provides social and health services, housing, tutoring, counseling, and more to youth who are not living with a parent or guardian and are not eligible for foster care due to their unique circumstances. These are youth who have been living on their own, bouncing from couch to couch at a friend’s house, living homeless in parks or on the street, but are not considered runaways.

You may think that your community, your school, or your neighborhood doesn’t have any homeless teens, but let me tell you, I bet it does. Even though this organization is based in Tampa, Florida, there are likely homeless and unaccompanied youth in the small and big towns near you. I live in a small town of 700 people with our high school having approximately 500 students and I can say for certain that we have youth that would qualify for this program if it was offered here.

Though many children in the school system fail to get the help they require, the issues of unaccompanied homeless youth nationwide are exacerbated because they do not have anyone paying attention to their needs.

Sokolik shares the backstory of how she became aware of the need for a program for these particular types of teens who were continually falling through the cracks of the school services and human service programs. Even though she came from a very privileged background, she is the parent of a child with epilepsy and has been used to advocating and making her voice heard. So, when she saw a need, she used those skills to advocate for these homeless youth.

The stories shared in the book are all true. Most of the time the actual people share their personal stories of homelessness, abuse, addiction, hunger, failing school, and how SRN helped them graduate high school, attend and even graduate college, and become successful adults who contribute to society. Not all the stories shared in the book are successful. Many of the people featured in this book needed multiple tries by the SRN staff and school officials to convince them to stay with the program.

As a former social worker who worked with the homeless and as someone who now works in our school system, I could see many of the youth featured in this book in the students and families in our district. I was extremely impressed with the persistence, the amount of resources, and the way these students have succeeded through SRN in Tampa. I wish every community could have a program like SRN available to them.

"Owning a book. Owning it forever. It was such a small thing that I took for granted – and never would again."

So many things that most of us take for granted were found to be some of the most precious gifts of the youth helped by the SRN program. Things like a brand-new pillow, clothes that were not previously owned by someone else, an actual bed to sleep on, or a book are items that the youth have held onto long into adulthood to remind them of the support they received from the staff at SRN.

“It was overwhelming to see that I could walk into a kitchen and eat something. And I had my own toothbrush, and a pillow. It was my own pillow and brand-new. Nobody had slept on it before me. My pillow made me feel like everything was ok because it was mine.”
…Years later, she still had that pillow because, as she told me, it was “where I finally laid my head down and felt safe.”

I found this book to be informative, compelling, heartbreaking, and eye-opening. I will never look at homeless youth the same way again. If you work in social services, in a school system, or want to better understand the needs of these teens, I highly recommend reading this book.

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The author writes about her experiences with unhoused teenagers, living without support from their families, and her pursuit to help them find more stable situations.
Reading about the lives of the teenagers she has encountered is eye-opening and heartbreaking, and just the sheer number of kids trying to get by without adequate support from the adults in their lives is staggering; her work is certainly commendable and inspirational.
All of her casual references to her family’s wealth and political connections did bug, though, even if she does use them to help others. She kind of came across as a Good Samaritan who wants everyone to know how generous she is.
Thanks to #netgalley and #spiegelandgrau for this #arc of #ifyouseethem in exchange for an honest review.

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This book truly shines a light on homelessness and that goes along with it. The author did an amazing job of making the reader be able to understand the how and why of people being homeless. This book is a must read if you deal with the public on a day to day basis.

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If You See Them is a fantastic book by Vicki Sokolik that helps one not only 'see' those who are trying to hide, but also how to realistically help them overcome their daily obstacles in life holding them back and actually succeed. Vicki starts the book off with gaining an understanding that there are teenagers who were invisible to society, and they were trying everything they could with all that they had to move toward their dreams, but the realistic understanding of the obstacles in their way created a system that didn't help them succeed, but instead became part of the reason why they struggled even more. Filled with how she began to try to help those who needed it, first hand accounts of the youth who went through her SRN program, and the legal obstacles they have overcome, and still have yet to overcome paints a picture of awareness that I personally just didn't know existed. Fantastic job and I hope this spreads so that no child is left unseen. Thank you Vicki for your heart and hard work at exposing this for us all.
*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my own opinion*

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What an eye opening read this was. My thoughts in the video below.

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If You See Them by Vicki Sokolik
Publishes: 13th February 2024


📝 - Vicki had two teenage children of her own when she first became aware of unaccompanied youth, a term to describe minors living away from their families, but not part of the foster care system. As she started to meet more high school students in precarious living situations, sofa surfing, sleeping in parks or cars or with unstable/ab*dive family members, she started Starting Right, Now (SRN), a charity giving direct help to these minors to help them overcome their trauma, and equip them with skills to succeed.

💭 - On the whole, I learnt quite a bit from this book. While I’m not based in the USA, I’m sure the situation in the UK is similar, and something I had never heard about, assuming that all children not with parents were funnelled into foster care somehow. Sokolik outlined the process of building her foundation for these children, going into details of some of their stories, each finding themselves needing SRN differently, though all with a similarly traumatic upbringing. However, I don’t think this book completely hit its mark. Sokolik spends a long time talking about herself, her upbringing (an extremely privileged one which, while she does acknowledge, feels unnecessary), and her family. Also, while the accounts of each child’s story were informative, there didn’t seem to be much of a purpose towards the end, beyond awareness. Overall, am interesting read, but didn’t quite meet my expectations.

#nonfiction #ifyouseethem #sociology #culture #politics #netgalley #2024 #2024release

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Vicki Sokolik delivered turkey dinners to needy families annually, but her philanthropy expanded exponentially when one of her children introduced her to an unhoused high school student in their Florida neighborhood. Encouraged by the mayor, Sokolik founded Starting Right, Now (“SRN”) a nonprofit that seeks to end generational homelessness by focusing on the high school student in the family. The goal of SRN is to get homeless youth through high school and into higher education, the military, or vocational training.

By introducing the reader to various young people whom SRN has assisted through the tireless activism of its leadership, Sokolik illustrates the destruction wrought by the “patchwork lives” in which these young people exist, “bouncing from one imperfect and unstable situation to another” without the guidance of constructive adults, support structures, financial resources or advocates. She explains how homeless kids engage in delinquent acts — stealing, dealing drugs, engaging in sex work — to survive, but the legal system ignores the root of the problem, and only considers the crime, compounding the crisis of homelessness when a juvenile record threatens employment. She explores the byzantine structures that make it difficult for even seasoned professionals to procure available aid. Medicaid benefits, for example, are not available for unaccompanied homeless youth who are independent of their families unless they have babies or become disabled and these young adults often lack a social security card necessary to secure a job, but to obtain a replacement, the government requires a birth certificate and these kids often lack access to their records.

Sokolik has crafted an inspiring and moving memoir and has designed a program that should be replicated in other communities. Thank you Spiegel & Grau and Net Galley for providing me with an advanced copy of this memoir that enlightened me regarding the issue of unhoused students who are not living with a parent or guardian and are not in the foster system.

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I received this book in exchange for a honest review from NetGalley.

I loved this book. I think it is a great insight for those of us privileged enough not to be unhoused minors at anytime in our lives. It looks into the lives of these teens and shows that many times their actions are born out of desperation and trauma and in the long run all they want is security and kindness (even if they may deny it at first) I also think that this book will be very helpful for me as a Teen Librarian in identifying and helping those teens in my library who my be struggling with homelessness. Overall very insightful book.

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this was unique view and I haven't ready any books related to this topic so far. I appreciated the insight and enjoyed it

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I really enjoyed this one. If You See Them is heartbreaking, educational, infuriating, hopeful, and deeply human. As someone that has fairly frequent interactions with unhoused individuals, this is a must read for teachers, med students, first responders, mental health professionals, and anyone else trying to learn and be more compassionate towards this demographic.

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC!
I wasn't sure what I thought of this very privileged lady at first--she seemed very bossy and didn't seem to understand the forces affecting the lives of the kids she was wanting to help. But I was just really drawn into the story of her own family, her daughter that had a seizure disorder, and her growing understanding of the teens and young adults she was helping--kids who had left home, were homeless, but were not in the foster care system. She started a nonprofit and began helping kids, needing to fight bureaucracy and regulations that were not set up for the kids she needed to help. I ended up being very impressed by both the author, her organization, and the kids who told their stories. This evolved into the good kind of help, the kind that respects the people being helped and offers them needed care and services with love. Very good book.

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This book is a really great non fiction book that speaks about a specific unspoken and not highly visible population.

It’s difficult to find any faults in this advanced copy. In fact, it’s hard not to be swept up by the stories and lives that are recorded in these pages. You feel compelled to take a pause, go to Google, and become active in your own community to help those in need. It makes you think back to see if any of your classmates, friends, or acquaintances fell into this group of invisible, high risk population of kids needing assistance of reaching their fullest potential and in having a safe environment in doing so. My heart wept and I rooted for each person that Vicki Skokie and SRN met.

There are maybe two things that left me a little wanting:
The story of her parents and where they are now
The editing felt a little choppy

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to all, especially to fiction readers looking to get into non fiction. I very appreciative to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau for allowing me to read this amazing telling of hardship and hope. 5 out of 5.

Posted on Goodreads, Instagram and Storygraph.

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Vicki Sokolik is a remarkable woman. Her book, If You See Them, describes her work with homeless teens who are often invisible to the public. These young people are usually coming from an abusive home and have been abandoned by their dysfunctional family. In an effort to avoid foster care they attempt to live unnoticed. Unfortunately they are often angry, distrustful, and difficult to help.
The author has dedicated her life to these teens. Her true life stories of the youth she works with was eye opening and very moving. The impact she and her organization has made is wonderful. What struck me the most was her unbelievable patience and perseverance in dealing with each individual teen. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am now much more aware of the issue of homeless teens .

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Sadly If You See Them is a DNF for me.

I can appreciate the help that Start Right, Now has done for homeless citizens in certain areas of Florida, but Sokolik's book spoke with a lot of tones of white savior energy. As I read the first quarter of the book, I could see a lot of the privilege of Sokolik and her family seeping through the pages and Sokolik didn't seem to know how to to reel it back. I'm not here for a book about a white savior. That just isn't the book I'm looking for and that's what this book seemed to primarily be in the first 25%. It may change by the end, but I'd had enough for my personal taste.

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