NACF NOTES Column, Intercounty Leader, May 26, 2021
Did you know May is Foster Care Awareness Month? May is traditionally associated with graduations, parties, and well-meant, but usually unsolicited advice on further education and career choices. Most graduates are supported by family as they take the next steps in their lives – however, many teens in foster care programs experience more challenging circumstances. It is reported that roughly 20,000 youth between ages 18-21 annually age out of foster care without a nurturing family, leaving them to make their own way. Noting the need for interaction with teens aging out of foster care, the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation awarded a grant to the Workforce Resource Independent Living program, led by Coordinator/Program Manager Crystal Meier, to help expand its mentorship component for foster youth in Burnett and Polk Counties.
The Independent Living Program assists foster and former foster youth ages 14-23 with services to help them become self-sufficient. The original plan was to develop in-person programs focusing on healthy relationships and connections through the Youth Advisory Council. The pandemic, however, forced remote engagement through virtual meetings and classrooms. NACF grant funds helped host a variety of online programs including a life skills course that provided cooking classes, taught Rent Smart certification, and connected youth to post-secondary options. Additionally, youth developed Foster Club binders that listed the vital documentation needed when transitioning out of care – everything including birth certificates, educational records, medical records and acquired certifications, as well as other essential resources to ensure self-sufficiency and success as they move forward in their lives.
“We worked to create a community of youth who felt connected to each other during the isolation of the pandemic and also felt confident in the hopes and dreams for their future,” stated Meier. “We are currently developing a mentorship program using new technologies that allow breakout rooms so youth can work with adults on specific goals each week. Anyone who is interested in learning more about becoming a mentor is encouraged to contact me.” Meier can be reached through Workforce Resource at 877-711-9390 ext. 2710.
Chris Byerly is a member of the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation, which is an affiliate of the St. Croix Valley Foundation. For more information, visit www.nacommunityfoundation.org.By Chris Byerly