Transitional Living Program: Giving Support When It’s Needed Most
The teenage years are a critical time in our lives: actions and decisions made during this period of young adulthood make a huge impact on our future. This especially stands true for the thousands of 17-21 year-old individuals in Georgia’s foster care system who face future-altering decisions every single day. It’s a common misconception, that youth “age out” of foster care at 18 years old. Foster care is only for children, right? In reality, this transitory time of young adulthood is when older youth need systems of support more than ever. The good news? Through our Transitional Living Program, UMCH dedicates extensive time and resources to offering services and support to those in foster care who are on the verge of entering the “real world.” The even better news? This program works. And it leads to youth earning degrees, securing jobs, establishing financial stability and setting the trajectory for a successful future. Our Transitional Living Program (TLP) is uniquely designed for older youth who are on the cusp of adulthood, but lack adequate direction and proper support to successfully leave the foster care system and enter into the community. Ultimately, we aim to meet young adults where they are, and help them get to places they never thought possible. “When individuals come into the program, the point isn’t that they have everything all together,” said Director of Programs Shalondra Young. “Instead, it’s about creating an environment where young people can grow, gain independence and transition into the community as successful adults.” Education is the top priority in TLP, and employment is a very close second. Whether a participant enters the program while still attending high school, in a GED program, or not in school at all, the goal of TLP is to be enrolled in school or working a steady job within 45 days. While going to school or working, participants live in apartment-style housing with a “house parent” who is there to offer guidance and support around the clock. While in group care, youth are rarely required to complete chores or daily tasks. Because they were accustomed to living in “survival mode,” many TLP participants have missed out on learning life skills: preparing a decent meal, washing clothes, cleaning an apartment, paying bills, making a doctor’s appointment, creating a resume or shopping for an interview outfit. TLP is the safety net and kickstarter that many young people need to become self-sufficient. It provides freedom, but with guardrails. Participants live autonomously—but trained, expert and loving support is always a phone call away. Financial responsibility is another massive program focus. Our staff members work one-on-one with participants to outline a savings plan, build up their personal credit and pay off any debts. After 3-6 months in the program, youth even begin to gradually pay for their own rent and utilities. Because of the generous support from our donors, UMCH is able to take any money paid toward rent and backfill it into the participants’ savings accounts. They receive this sum upon completion of the program, which makes it possible for a “graduated” participant to secure their own housing when they enter into the community. Most of these youth never dreamed of having their name on a lease, but the support and guidance of TLP makes it possible. A 24-hour staff is also available to the participants—life coaches, counselors, education coordinators and the program director, along with a wide range of volunteers, like tutors and Bible study leaders. Because our staff aims to truly understand each youth and his or her dreams and goals, each participants’ path through TLP is personalized and unique. We never use “one size fits all” approach. “We don’t push anyone into something they aren’t ready for,” said Education Coordinator Robin Stewart. “It’s our aim to build on current skills in order to encourage and motivate these youth to enroll in post-secondary education or to aim for management positions.” When individuals feel confident in their financial standing and employment/education arrangement, they have the freedom to transition out of the program and into the community. UMCH remains in contact with youth who have transitioned out, and about 50 percent of them reach out again for additional mentoring or counseling, which is still available. Many youth come into TLP from traumatic, difficult environments. This leads to issues with authority and a disdain for direction. Our goal is to reestablish the trust these individuals lost as a result of the bad situations which life handed them. “UMCH is unique because we welcome everyone, regardless of where you may have been two days ago,” said Robin. “We don’t define youth by their past. We see them through the lens of where they are right now.” For the 20 participants currently enrolled in our Transitional Living Program, the future holds more possibility than ever before. By owning their independence and learning responsibility, these dedicated individuals have altered the course of their lives for the better. And we’re thankful to be a part. “It’s our mission through this program to build a bridge of support that these young adults can continue to cross and come back if we can help them in any way,” said Shalondra. “Above all, we want to see them succeed and grow into the full potential that we know they have.” If you’re interested in volunteering with our Transitional Living Program as a tutor or a variety of other ways, email Volunteer Coordinator Alyson Ackerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.