Reflect back on your teenage years. What moments stand out as your favorites? When did you finally feel like an adult; when did you get your first taste of independence? Maybe it was your first job, getting your driver’s license, going to prom, getting accepted into college, or maybe it was making your first purchase on your own debit card. These “favorite moments” not only felt empowering and positive, but they also taught you life skills and started to prepare you for adulthood. All youth should have the opportunity to share in these experiences, though many face more barriers than others.
Our Independent Living Program (ILP) provides youth who have experienced or are currently experiencing foster care or are involved with juvenile probation and assigned a case manager for support in building life skills and achieving the milestones of young adulthood. My favorite part of working in this program is that youth are empowered to identify their goals and obtain support in working towards them. The needs of the youth we served are varied, and no goal is quite the same. We are able to support the whole youth and empower them to succeed in their home community. Education and careers are the cornerstones of the work we do, however helping a youth get connected with a sports team or to make a savings plan to reach a personal goal can add so much value to their experience and support their broader development of real life skills.
Some of the barriers our youth experience impact their ability to achieve “universal” milestones. Lack of funds can keep them from being able to get their driver’s license, purchase clothes for a job interview or pay for materials needed to attend a class or vocational program. Sometimes they lack the necessary knowledge about or exposure to career and educational opportunities they need. These lack of resources compounded with stressors such as unhealed childhood trauma and lack of family support can make it not only more challenging for youth to achieve these “favorite” independence-building moments, but can actually prevent them from achieving them, halting their growth towards self-sufficiency.
With support from ILP, youth are able to not only imagine but actually do the work needed to achieve the future they want for themselves. Because of community support and program funding, we are able to cover costs associated with career planning, job readiness needs, and life skills development--such as paying for clothing for more successful job interviews, the cost of behind-the-wheel-training so they can obtain their driver’s licenses, as well as increased access for them to learn about career options and pathways, and how to enroll in college or trade school programs, just to name a few! Empowering youth to see themselves as someone who can achieve their goals and helping to remove barriers for them to get there sets them up for a lifetime of positive outcomes. Life skills are built and joy is found through creating their own “favorite moments” of their young adulthood, and it is amazing to be a part of that process.