Beating the Odds and Building a Future

Turning 18 can be a precarious time in a person’s life. Even though legally an adult, most people continue to need the support of their families to start their independent lives. Many older youths in foster care find themselves without the help they need when they age out of the system. Without continued support, many former foster children experience homelessness right after their 18th birthday. They may never graduate from high school and struggle to find employment that can cover the cost of rent. The trauma carried from having to enter the system can even cause some to encounter the harsh realities of addiction and law enforcement.

The Council’s Project LIFE (Learning Independence and Fostering Empowerment) program steps in at just the right moment to help guide former foster youth to security and stability as they begin to navigate the adult world.

When Dystany Turner from Carter County turned 18, she, like many others aging out of the foster care system, attempted to return to her biological family. “I moved in with my mom, but it wasn’t a good situation. I wasn’t getting the help that I needed,” Dystany said. Pregnant and in need of assistance, her former foster family allowed her to move back in with them, but she still needed support to get on her feet, and that’s when Dystany met Project LIFE case manager Luke Finster.

With understanding and non-judgmental guidance, Project LIFE case managers help participants develop goals based on their individual needs, enter the workforce, continue their education, care for their health, build their financial literacy, and find suitable housing.

Luke was able to connect Dystany to all of the resources available to her and help her enroll in the services she needed to move her life forward. “The program really helped me get on my feet,” she said.

Project LIFE was able to provide Dystany rental assistance for a year. The program completely took care of the first three months of rent so that Dystany could focus on setting goals, finding employment, and taking care of herself. After three months, Dystany began paying a portion of her monthly rent, gaining more independence along the way. “They gave me and my baby a place to stay while I figured out what to do next,” she said.

Luke helped Dystany enroll in the Earn to Learn program that provides former foster youth $150 per week to continue their education. He also helped her take advantage of the tuition waiver available to former foster youth. During her year in Project LIFE, Dystany earned her GED and went on to acquire her CNA (certified nursing assistant) certificate. Along the way, Project LIFE helped with the cost of school supplies and testing for her certification, in addition to providing her with gas money to make sure that she was able to attend all of her classes and training.

Dystany also took a budgeting class offered by the program to help her make the most of her budget as she navigated a year of moving, schooling, and having a newborn. Because she remained in school and paid a portion of her rent each month, she earned a $2,250 incentive from the program to help her stay on track when her time with the program ended.

Dystany now has a safe place to live, a healthy baby, and a new job at a local hospital that will help her continue her education and become a registered nurse with the ability to support herself and her child.

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