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Hannah Heinchon of Lowell helps young people thrive in stable housing

Written by
VSAC Staff

April 24, 2024


Hannah Heinchon

As a graduate student pursuing her master’s in social work, Hannah Heinchon thought she wanted to become a child counselor. But an internship in family counseling uncovered a far greater need, that turned into a passion and a calling.

“I remember I was working with a family who was homeless and living in a shelter at the time. We met weekly, but the kids continued to be dysregulated, and they couldn’t make progress. Although the dad attended all the meetings, he seemed exhausted and almost ‘checked-out,’” she recalls.

“But in the middle of our work, they found housing. The difference was night and day. The dad was more present and animated, and all of them suddenly made progress. The hierarchy of needs was so obvious, and my heart was pulled in that direction—to help families find housing.”

Supporting Vermont's Youth

Hannah, now 36, works at Elevate Youth Services, formerly known as the Washington County Youth Service Bureau. In four years with the organization, she elevated her own career from service provider to supervisor to admin. She was initially hired to run the Transitional Living Program, which provides housing supports to homeless youth, and to implement the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program in Central Vermont. Later, she was instrumental in securing a grant for Elevate that allowed the agency to create a brand-new emergency shelter program in Central Vermont.

More recently, she helped secure additional funding that will allow the emergency shelter to grow and double the number of beds available to homeless youth. Now, she has accepted a new role within Elevate as the Assistant Director and Billing Specialist for the Statewide Youth Development Program, which supports youth with foster care involvement. She also continues to supervise Elevate’s housing programs and the local Youth Development Program.

However, Hannah is quick to share the spotlight with others. As a professional, she compliments her hardworking colleagues at Elevate for collaboratively making the shelter program a reality. As a mom, she glows when she talks about the interests and future aspirations of her two sons, ages 14 and 9. And as an alumna of the VSAC GEAR UP program, she credits the support and encouragement she received in high school for fueling her college aspirations and her professional growth.

Discovering a Luxury of Options

Hannah grew up on her grandparents’ small dairy farm in Lowell, where everyone worked hard. Life on a dairy farm meant there was no shortage of work, and everyone had to pitch in and help. "It isn't an easy way of life, but it was also really special to grow up caring for animals and the land, and I certainly attribute my work ethic to those early years," Hannah recalls. “It was a great way to grow up. When I started high school, they sold the cows, which is sad. I would have liked my kids to grow up with that.”
No one in Hannah’s family had graduated from college, but she knew from an early age that she wanted to continue her education beyond high school. “I always thrived in school, and I had so much respect and admiration for my teachers that I wanted nothing more than to be a teacher myself one day,” she says. “I knew a college degree was needed for that goal, but I had no idea how to get myself there.” 

Then, as an eighth grader at Lowell Graded School, Hannah found GEAR UP and started working with Matt Mitchell, who still works as a VSAC outreach counselor in the same region. (In fact, he now works with Hannah’s older son, Isaac. “Vermont is a pretty special place like that,” Hannah says with a smile.) 

“The GEAR UP program was an answer to prayers I hadn’t known to pray,” Hannah continues. “I applied to five colleges and universities, and I was accepted by all of them. Somehow this farm kid who knew nothing about college had the luxury of options. It was humbling and exciting.”

From Early Education to Continued Education

She enrolled in the early education program at Lyndon State College (now VTSU-Lyndon), but along the way she fell in love with psychology instead, and switched her major to psychology and human services. When her first son was born, just six months before she was set to graduate, she took a break from school, but always knew she would finish. When Isaac started preschool, she returned to school—this time at Johnson State College (now VTSU-Johnson) because it was closer and offered an online program. When she became pregnant again, she again didn’t slow down. She finished her internship hours as a guidance counselor wearing her younger son, Collin, in a baby carrier.

A few years later, when Hannah was preparing for a divorce and single parenthood, she realized that she wanted to take the next step in her career. “As it always has been for me, education was the ticket to something bigger and better,” she says. “I applied for graduate school the same day I filed for divorce.”

Determined to earn her master’s in social work, Hannah worked full time and went to school full time, while being a single parent of two young boys. “It was years of hard work and sacrifice, and nothing made me prouder than receiving that graduate degree,” says Hannah.

However—again, sharing credit—she gives a strong nod to VSAC. “I truly believe that none of my success in school or in my career would have been possible without the early and consistent guidance of my VSAC counselor and the support provided by the GEAR UP program,” she says. 

“I now have the honor of watching my older son as he begins to think about where he wants to go to college. He has watched his mom put herself through school and knows the hard work and dedication it takes, but also the reward that comes out of all of that effort. I am grateful that, when the time comes, I will be there to help him.

“I didn’t have the luxury of parents who had gone to college and knew how to help me, so having a VSAC counselor to fill that role was vital to my success. I have no doubt—I wouldn’t be where I am today without the GEAR UP program.”