It is even more daunting for young adults who have been in foster care – often bouncing from residence to residence with very little stability and no real support system of which to speak. Things most take for granted, such as establishing and maintaining a banking account or budgeting for monthly expenses, oftentimes go untaught to foster children. For some children in the foster care system, the primary concern is surviving each day, not planning for tomorrow.
With this in mind, one organization is working to assist teens and young adults in the Hennepin County foster care system and help them transition into life on their own.
Connections to Independence (C2i), was initially founded as a program within Summit Academy OIC but in 2009 the program became an organization onto itself, with then program manager Jessica Rogers taking over as executive director. The mission of C2i is to prepare youth for living independently as they get closer to reaching adulthood and aging out of the foster care system. Participants are typically between the ages of 15-21 and focus on a healthy mind, body, and soul approach to learning independent living skills. Youth are assigned an independent living skills counselor who they work with until they exit the program.
But in reality, C2i has become family for many who otherwise do not call anyone else family.
“If it wasn’t for C2i, I probably wouldn’t be in school today,” said 18-year-old high school senior Thomas Stone. “They’re like a second family to me and they really pressured me to go to school. They’ve helped me to be to mature and to be an adult. It just shows they’re not here for the money, they’re here for me.”
Stone, who said he has lived in multiple foster homes, said the staff at C2i has worked with him to understand everything from automobiles to filling out college applications to properly filling out a check.
Markita Hawkins, 22, said she too has lived in multiple foster homes and facilities and credits C2i with providing stability in her life.
“I learned so much – how to get a job, how to buy a car, how to get an apartment; how to sustain relationships with people, the day-to-day things that help you transition out of foster care,” said Hawkins, who was born into foster care. “This is one of the best programs because they taught me so much.”
Hawkins has been in the C2i program since she was 14 and says because of her involvement with the organization she is now a youth consultant with the YMCA. Hawkins recently obtained her degree in medical assistance and hopes to obtain a job in the medical field, but also hopes to continue to work with youth – particularly in the foster care system.
June Baker, 22, has been with C2i since age 16.
Baker, who was recently emancipated, now works full time and maintains her own apartment. Many of the life skills she uses to maintain her independence, she credits to the coaching she received at Connections to Independence.
“I probably would have struggled a lot more without their help,” said Baker referencing her experience locating, securing and maintaining her first apartment.
Baker was born into foster care, but lived with her grandmother until she passed away when Baker was 12-years-old. From there Baker bounced from group home to group home; even running away for brief stints.
“I’ve been through a lot, but I don’t want people to be like, ‘Aww, poor baby,’” said Baker. “I’m here and made it through. I think as long as you have a good support system you’ll be just fine.”
Baker said C2i provided her with the support system she needed.
For more information on Connections to Independence, visit www.c2iyouth.org.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month.