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This hard-earned wisdom is a truth Asjah found within herself, on a path through college, graduate school, and creating and leading a nonprofit of her own.
In 2020, Asjah Monroe founded Small House, an organization that provides transitional-style housing and coaching to young adults living in Boston. The organization began during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when Asjah witnessed first-hand the difficulties encountered by Boston’s youth dealing with housing insecurity and homelessness. For Asjah, the decision to create Small House stemmed from personal challenges she faced and her passion for social work.
Learning How to Find the Right Solutions
As the founding director of Small House, Asjah draws from her personal experiences to assist youth through authentic coaching and mentorship. She credits this approach to when she first recognized the significance of authentic mentorship during her time as a Steppingstone Scholar. Now, nearly two decades later, Asjah is still able to recall what she describes as “the most impactful memory” between herself and her Steppingstone Advisor:
“I still hold onto this one memory with my Advisor, Mr. Edie. He pulled me aside one time and told me that I wasn’t working up to my potential. I always remember that moment.”
The reminder to never underestimate her ability to achieve her goals stuck with Asjah throughout the rest of her educational career. In 2000, she embarked on her undergraduate journey at UMass Boston as an English major. However, it didn't take long for her to rekindle her interest in sociology, a passion initially ignited during her time as a student at Foxborough High School, and driven by her goal to work in human services. In 2006, Asjah earned her master's degree in applied sociology from UMass Boston.
She appreciates the skills that she both developed and strengthened in her sociology courses, many of which she believes provided her with the toolkit necessary to begin and sustain the work that she’s currently leading at Small House:
“All of that learning and discovery about the nature of the various problems that our society faces really prepared me to think in levels and layers. The training I had as a student taught my mind how to locate, dissect, and understand social issues. Because of this, I’m able to develop insight into what the solutions can really be.”
When the Past Aligns with the Future
With an eagerness to change lives, Asjah embarked on her journey into the world of human services at ABCD Boston (Action for Boston Community Development), where she served as a community services coordinator and case manager in 2005. Since then, she has helped several organizations in their missions of supporting the needs of Boston’s youth population. It wasn’t until her most recent role as a program manager for Y2Y, an overnight young adult shelter located in Cambridge, that she was inspired to launch Small House:
“When the pandemic hit, I was really able to see the circumstances of the youth we were working with in a new light. When we were locked in, they were all locked out. Everything was closed. It was cold. It was a travesty.”
In working with young adults, Asjah quickly learned that several of those she supported were “falling through the cracks,” even if placed in temporary or transitional housing systems. This realization underscored the importance of community and peer-to-peer relationships, an aspect of youth transitional work that she believes is oftentimes overshadowed by the urgency to meet demands for access to safe and sustainable housing:
“I discovered that sometimes, even if the youth I was working with were able to get some sort of housing opportunity they would refuse it because they wanted to stay with their community of friends. Small House was created to not only provide transitional housing, but also an opportunity for the youth to organically figure things out. Build their skillset. Develop their toolkit for knowing who they want to be and how they want to show up in this world, while still being a part of a community.”
At 18 years old, Asjah’s story resembled those of the young adults she worked with at Y2Y: she was faced with the daunting reality of being entirely responsible for finding shelter for herself. This experience, paired with the challenges faced by the young adults she worked with, were “wake-up calls” that supported the conviction she felt for creating Small House. This conviction, however, did not come without its own doubts and trials:
“Entrepreneurship was different. It was kind of shocking. I faced this huge initial wave of rejection during the initial stages of creating Small House by people who were important to me. I felt so deflated. I had to push through it.”
An Unwavering Passion to Provide
This rejection did not sway Asjah from her passion to provide. Instead, it encouraged her to connect with people—and organizations—she could both learn from and use as a resource. For Asjah, this was Steppingstone.
“When I first wanted to learn about what starting and sustaining a non-profit organization looked like, I called Steppingstone. Everyone met with me, told me who I should talk to and what I should do. One of those individuals has been on my board since day one.”
Asjah describes Steppingstone as an “anchor,” a source of stability that she aspires for Small House to become for youth and young adults in transition. She has high hopes and goals for the support that Small House can offer in the near future, namely transitional housing developments, life skills, and coaching to young adults in Boston.
As she looks towards the future, Asjah encourages all to remember a truth that has fueled the tenacious pursuit of her own passion:
“You're capable, and it can be done.”
To learn more about Small House and support its mission in this season of giving, visit https://www.smallhouseinc.org/
Steppingstone is an educational nonprofit which serves students of every race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, or political beliefs to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to Scholars enrolled in the program. It does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship programs, or other organization-administered activities.