Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Next Steps and the HerShe Group Foundation

Answering an age-old question
Alemoru, Olu. Los Angeles Wave Newspaper, April 3, 2008.

Caption: Mentors in the Next Steps program help students with a game that teaches them the value of higher education.

With an estimated 20,000 foster children leaving "the system" annually, private charities play an increased role in preparing them for life after 18.

INGLEWOOD - He may have a bright future one day in science but as a child in the U.S. foster care system he will have faced more challenges than most to get there.

His speech peppered with respectful "yes sirs" and "no sirs," Peter (not his real name), is a 16-year-old student who has lived with his Inglewood foster family since he was 4 years old.

Helping him to reach his goals is a local charity called Next Steps, dedicated to equipping foster youth with job and life skills to help them succeed.

Official figures paint a bleak picture for some 20,000 U.S. foster children who leave or �age out� of the system annually. From the age of 18, there is no mandated support for them at the local or federal level.

Although Peter is not comfortable discussing how he came to be in foster care, he does reveal that he has 14 biological brothers and sisters who are spread out all around the country.

For now he says he is glad to be in a loving family with his two 20- and 30-something older brothers and knows that Next Steps definitely has his back.

"I like the program because it encourages us not to feel like we're alone," he said. "The mentors help lift up our spirits so that we can overcome challenges and teach us to make good decisions. I plan to study astronomy and religion."

Founded in 2005 by Pastor Michael Martin, of the Learning to Live Fellowship, the program caters to youth between the ages of 14 and 18 and targets five main skill sets: computer literacy, writing proficiency, financial planning and understanding, social interaction and life skills.

Martin revealed that the program arose out of original efforts to help AIDS orphans on the African continent.

"We could not ignore the biblical mandate to help widows and orphans in distress and the more we researched it we saw how foster kids in our community fit that description," said Martin. "The Bible also taught us to start at home and work our way out."

Studies show that nationwide, half a million children are currently in foster care.

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, seven out of 10 foster youth will be homeless within one year of emancipation. Another six out of 10 will be incarcerated within one year of emancipation.

Only one out of 10 foster youth go to college and of those only one out of 100 will graduate. Another dismaying statistic is that one out of two girls in foster care have been physically and/or sexually abused.

"Inglewood, as many other areas, has a great need for these kinds of services," said Next Steps Director April Warfield. "Over the last two years we have helped 20 kids in the program, but the value goes beyond teaching basic computer skills. The youth get to feel they are a part of the community."

Meanwhile, over in Century City, another organization, The HerShe Group Foundation, seeks to specifically help girls who find themselves in the foster care system.

Established in 2005 by television producer Kenadie Cobbin Richardson, HerShe empowers young women in foster care to make a successful transition into adulthood.

The foundation has developed innovative programs such as Camp Cinderella, an annual summer personal development camp that ends with a society ball.

"The number of youth in the Los Angeles County foster care system has come down dramatically from 88,000 four years ago to nearly 19,000 today," said Richardson. "However, much more still needs to be done. Many of the girls end up pregnant and go from foster care straight into the welfare system."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home