Despite odds stacked against them, Children’s Home youth are working hard, achieving goals, and saving the world.
Like many other 19-year-olds, Jessica Melford sometimes struggles to balance school, work, and life. Petite and soft-spoken, she radiates both confidence and resilience. She is a freshman at a local college studying to be a child advocate and works part-time. Jessica is self-sufficient because she has to be, although occasionally she makes a mistake, such as recently filing three tax returns for last year instead of only one.
“I don’t have a family to answer questions or guide me when needed,” said Jessica. “Since I had three W2s from jobs the past year, I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Jessica is one of 25 youth in The United Methodist Children’s Home Transitional and Independent Living programs, which give young adults access to educational, vocational, and life skills guidance as they transition out of foster care to life on their own.
It’s a chance most youth in foster care unfortunately do not have as they age out at 18.
In fact, every day in the United States around 80 foster youth age out and are left to figure out life on their own, according to a Youth Villages study. These young adults are the most statistically vulnerable youth in the United States, and they face an increased risk of prison, social dependency, and poverty.
While the Children’s Home programs provide access to support and guidance, the youth must be willing to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities.
“This is the last chance for youth in foster care,” said Ebony Harris, director of the Children’s Home Transitional and Independent Living programs. “Our programs simulate life on their own. We help them find stable employment, continue their education, build support systems, and find safe housing.”
Jessica came into the foster care system at age 13 and lived at The Children’s Home when it provided group care until age 15. She returned to the Home at 17 years old and successfully transitioned to living in an off-campus apartment in December. A Children’s Home case worker visits every week to answer questions, provide guidance, and check on her.
She has good and bad days, days when she struggles with emotions and anger, and days when she’s just too busy to get mad.
“I never dealt with my emotional trauma from the past, I ignored it,” said Jessica. “But recently it’s been kicking my butt.”
Anger issues used to get her in trouble, but now she can recognize when she’s getting mad and walk away from a situation instead of escalating it. It’s part of growing up, and part of her strong commitment to make a better life.
The Children’s Home has helped Jessica recognize and develop a support circle that she can trust to help her through difficult times, people that “love her on her best and worst days,” she said.
Jessica loves the idea of superheroes, especially female ones who have overcome a troubled past to help others. If you get her voicemail, you’ll hear her cheerful voice: “Hi it’s Jessica, I’m out saving the world.”
“I was put in foster care for a reason,” she said. “It wasn’t great, it was a big struggle. I’ve been in the shoes of foster kids. I can help them, and I want to give back.”
Life will continue to throw challenges at her, but she is ready to conquer them like a superhero. And with the support of The Children’s Home, she just may save the world.
At a Glance: Transitional Living Program
The Transitional Living Program allows young adults in the foster care system to live in the community in their own homes while continuing to participate in a structured program that teaches and supports the continued development of essential life skills. We encourage each young adult to use the services provided to him or her and become aware of his or her own natural gifts and talents.
Children’s Home staff:
- assist the youth in securing appropriate, single-occupant housing;
- teach budgeting skills and assisting the youth in paying all monthly expenses;
- have daily contact with the youth, and conduct regular visits in the home;
- provide support and guidance for the youth in obtaining educational, vocational, and employment opportunities;
- assist the youth in obtaining medical services and securing mental health services as needed; and
- assist parenting youth with their DFCS case plan toward reunification and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for their children.
For more information about our Independent and Transitional Living programs, call (404) 327-5852