A funny thing happened on the way to Tubman House's journey toward independence from federal funds.
Uncle Sam abruptly pulled the plug.
Mind you, backing away from potentially fickle federal funding was the goal all along, Tubman's supporters say. But did Washington have to yank the Band-Aid off so fast, without so much as a warning?
"We've worked really hard to diversify our funding and decrease our dependence on government funding," said Executive Director Bridget Alexander. "We just didn't expect it to come so suddenly, without any notice allowing us to prepare."
Tubman House, a transitional living program for homeless pregnant youths and young parents, has served more than 100 young adults ages 19 to 21 since it was launched with its first $200,000 federal grant in 2003.
Each year since, federal funds kept coming in the form of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Runaway Homeless Youth grants.
Now, however, all program recipients of these grants in the Sacramento region have been cut loose, sending Tubman House in particular tumbling toward uncertainty.
"Save Tubman House!" the program's blog pleads. "Tubman is fighting for its life Without the help of this community, Tubman House is going to close."
Named for Harriet Tubman, the famed 19th-century abolitionist who helped free slaves through the Underground Railroad, Tubman House is now gingerly approaching its second decade of operation.
The dream was born more than 10 years ago, when co-founders Alexander and Blithe Raines recognized a void in Sacramento's existing offerings for homeless youths.
The result: A tidy suburban split-level home in a neatly landscaped cul-de-sac in south Sacramento, and a second home located nearby.
In each, four young adults and their children receive shelter, coaching and counseling that covers parent-child interaction, health and wellness, nutrition, home management and much more. Parents get special encouragement to attend college classes or secure a job during the 18 months of the program.
All the while, parents are taught that the children's well-being comes first. Rule No. 1 is, "The child is never an afterthought," said Alexander. "We focus on the kids."
That means coaching parents such as Douglas Taylor and Kimberly Berrios, both 19 when they arrived at Tubman House, how to communicate with their children so they will grow strong, confident and ready for learning.
"We learned how to 'sportscast,' " said Berrios, referring to a way of talking to kids that reaffirms their actions and vocabulary. "You say, 'Oh, you're picking up a toy and bringing it to me.' You 'sportscast' what they're doing."
Said Taylor, "The tools you get here to communicate are unbelievable."
Now 21, Taylor and Berrios are a Tubman House success story. They live in a nearby apartment with their children, Madison, 17 months, and Douglas Jr., 2. Taylor is studying to be a medical billing expert.
"They are well on their way to a middle-class lifestyle," Alexander said.
Previously, Taylor said, "I was bouncing around with family. I was living in my mom's house, with stuff from my son in my room and Kimberly's stuff everywhere. I dropped out of high school."
He admitted succumbing to temptation and partying frequently with his friends. Eventually, however, he agreed to enter Tubman House's program.
"It was an ultimatum," Berrios injected.
"One thing you learn here is that what you were doing before just didn't work," said Taylor. "There's nothing forced on you here you pick up everything on your own when you're ready."
Many of the homeless youths who end up at Tubman House do not come from a life on the streets, Alexander said. Instead, many leave family homes in order to keep themselves and their children safe from abusive relationships.
The program has a high success rate at stabilizing lives: 73 percent of Tubman residents attend college during their stay; 91 percent secure stable housing; 80 percent access mental health counseling; 50 percent work and attend college, and 80 percent clear all debts.
Since 2003, residents have completed 3,000 hours of service, stepping up as leaders of projects including renovating a refugee family's home, planting community gardens and raising funds to put a stone on an unmarked grave as well as gathering donations for disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti.
The program has garnered attention from other professionals in the nonprofit field.
David Lukenbill, president of a nonprofit consulting firm, said, "I was impressed with the way they were implementing their work. There's an aspect of 'We're going to help you help yourself,' which is important in working with homeless teenagers."
Tubman House supporters are now hoping the community will step up to help Tubman help itself.
Already, enough cash has been collected to help get Tubman House through October's crunch. And there are limited reserves on hand for the 2013 budget.
Long ago recognizing the benefits and drawbacks of relying on federal funds, the program had shaved back its dependency on Washington's largess from 100 percent to 90 percent, and then to 60 percent of its budget.
Today, after some serious brainstorming, Waking the Village the nonprofit organization that oversees Tubman House is moving full throttle to keep the program operating.
Residents came up with the idea of fundraising through the website crowdrise.com, and a "Rosie the Riveter" flash mob in Old Sacramento helped gain attention for the cause, with the mothers dressed in red bandanas and denim shirts with their sleeves rolled up.
There's a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a plan to create a stable funding stream by signing up around 800 people willing to give $25 to the program monthly.
And, significantly, the Sierra Health Foundation announced a much-needed matching grant of $25,000 with the hitch, of course, that Tubman House raise the other $25,000 share by Dec. 31 or lose out on the deal.
"Many of us fail our way to success," Alexander said in speaking of the young parents. "We find out what doesn't work and move toward what does."
The statement seemed just as apropos to the challenges surrounding Tubman House.
Yet confidence in the program runs high. At www.wakingthevillage.org, supporters noted:
"Tubman House will survive this crisis and come out stronger because of it. Federal funding made us vulnerable. Community investment will keep us strong."