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‘Cornhole for a Cause’ an overwhelming success in Massachusetts

June 26, 2015


See more photos…

Approximately 130 guests joined us May 31, 2015, at Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Massachusetts, for Youth Villages’ Cornhole for a Cause event.

Thirty-three teams competed in this year’s tournament, which generated more than $4,000 to help provide youth in our programs access to positive extracurricular activities that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Thanks to all those who played and those who supported this year’s Cornhole Tournament.

Congratulations to our winners!

  • 1st Place: Team “Bentley Bros” consisting of Curtis Freedman and Brian Cusick
  • 2nd Place: Team “Cornhole on Fleek #blessed” made up of Justin Nihon and Cait Ryan
  • 3rd Place: Lelani and Rich Foster, known as team “Kernel Fosters”

If you were unable to attend, it is not too late to support our efforts.


For questions or more information, please contact Kimberly Santos, special events manager, by email or call her at 781-937-7905.

Clinton Global Initiative America commitment improves the lives of Tennessee’s former foster youth

June 24, 2015

Every former foster youth who turned 18 in Tennessee was offered intensive help to transition successfully to independent adulthood in 2014 as part of a Youth Villages commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative America.

Former President Bill Clinton and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler

Former President Bill Clinton and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler

The Clinton Foundation initiative, which convenes leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to America’s economic recovery, includes a 2013 four-year commitment by Youth Villages to make effective, comprehensive transition services available to every young adult aging out of foster care and juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. Youth Villages is able to pursue the initiative through a partnership with the State of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services.

Youth Villages announced the results from the first year of its commitment on the heels of the 2015 CGI America in early June, which brought together more than 1,000 nonprofit, business and government leaders to share their commitments and updates on those commitments. The 1,356 youth helped by Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program across Tennessee from July 2013 through June 2014 were doing well at that point in the program, with 75 percent of the participants in school or graduated, 70 percent employed or seeking employment, 91 percent living with family or independently and 91 percent reporting no trouble with the law.

“Through this commitment, Tennessee became the first state to offer comprehensive transition services to every single young person aging out of state care,” said Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler. “We helped more than a thousand young people last year. This commitment demonstrates that there’s a highly effective model for this vulnerable population, and it’s a scalable program that is a practical, cost-effective solution to a national problem.”

In a unique public-private partnership between Tennessee’s DCS and Youth Villages, the organization began offering comprehensive transition services to every young person aging out of Tennessee state care in 2013 through the organization’s YVLifeSet program, formerly called transitional living services. Participation in the program is voluntary and about half of youth aging out of Tennessee’s foster and juvenile justice systems chose to participate.

Their success is in contrast to outcomes reported by studies conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and others on former foster youth that found young people at significantly higher risks of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, unaddressed mental health issues and unemployment in comparison to young adults who have not spent time in foster care or juvenile justice placements.

Youth Villages recently completed a rigorous, randomized trial of its YVLifeSet program, showing positive one-year results. The study, designed by The University of Chicago and conducted by the non-partisan social science research nonprofit organization MDRC, followed more than 1,300 young adults who had aged out of foster care or juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. The researchers found that, one year after program completion, the young people who participated in Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet services had achieved increased earnings and greater economic well-being, experienced better mental health conditions, had greater housing stability and were less likely to be involved in a violent relationship than young people from the same backgrounds who received other services available in the community. For more information about the study, visit

The general lack of support and effective services for former foster youth translate into significant social services costs incurred by the adult over a lifetime, estimated at an average $300,000 per person, according to Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. With approximately 23,000 youth aging out each year, costs add up to almost $7 billion for each year’s group.

In the Youth Villages-Tennessee partnership, YVLifeSet services are funded in part by the state and in part by Youth Villages’ fundraising efforts. The commitment is a significant expansion of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program and is costing $30 million during the four years. More than half of that was committed by private funders, including funds from a legacy challenge grant from Memphis philanthropist Clarence Day and The Day Foundation. The program, begun through Day Foundation funding in 1999 and expanded through the support of Tennessee’s DCS, has helped more than 7,500 young people so far.

“Former foster youth typically lack that crucial support young adults need to make a successful transition into independent adulthood,” Lawler said. “Providing the help these young adults need is not only the right thing to do, it’s also cost-effective. YVLifeSet benefits all of us.”

YVLifeSet matches young adults ages 17-22 with trained specialists who help young people identify their goals and guide them in taking the needed steps to begin achieving those goals. Program participants meet with their specialist on a weekly basis and can reach them by phone 24/7 for support. YVLifeSet specialists typically help young adults complete their education and go on to higher education, find and maintain housing, learn to budget, access health and mental health care, form healthy relationships and reconnect with family when possible. The program is tailored to each youth’s individual goals and typically takes around seven to nine months to complete.

Six things you should know about growing up in foster care

June 2, 2015

Mary Lee

Mary Lee

By Mary Lee, National coordinator of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program

When I was about 12 years old, I was removed from my family and placed into the Tennessee child welfare system as a foster child. I had to pack all my belongings into trash bags and leave the home I knew behind. Roughly five years later, one week before my 18th birthday, I was adopted by my forever family.

I was very, very fortunate. I went on to earn undergraduate and law degrees and found a career where I can work every day to help foster children and youth. I work in a program that helps young people who age out of state custody without ever being reunited with their families or finding a new one through adoption. Last week, I was one of 12 foster care advocates honored by the White House as Foster Care Champions of Change. We all can help the 400,000 children in foster care and the 23,000 who will turn 18 and “age out” of foster care alone this year.

But to do that, we need more people to understand foster children and the unique challenges they face. Here are six things foster children and youth want you to know.

  1. Many of us could avoid foster care if the right help were provided to our parents. Intensive services that strengthen and restore struggling families can keep children out of foster care entirely. That’s best for most kids – and society. Just the act of entering the foster care system, being taken away from your family, is traumatic and can cause serious emotional damage. The state just isn’t equipped to be a parent.
  2. Thankfully, most children don’t actually “grow up” in foster care anymore. There was a time when a baby could enter foster care only to exit at 18. Now, under federal regulations, states are required to help children and youth find a permanent family situation more quickly than before. In 2013, the average length of stay in foster care was 13.5 months. That’s still too long in the life of a child. Children enter foster care at all ages. The greatest need is for people to become foster and adoptive parents to teenagers. Most of the young people who age out of foster care at 18 enter foster care as teenagers or have had multiple foster care stints.
  3. The system is a scary place for children. Even if your family is chaotic, neglectful or abusive, being taken away from everything you’ve known is terrifying. Imagine having to go live with strangers, often a series of strangers, and there’s nothing you can do. Foster children have no control over their lives, and that lack of control causes continual insecurity. They don’t know how long they’ll be in a particular foster home or where they’ll be going to school next month or next year. Foster teens aren’t allowed to do many things other teens do, like getting a drivers license or going to sleepovers. Just the act of entering foster care can cause serious emotional trauma. In fact, one study found that foster children are more likely to suffer PTSD than combat veterans.
  4. Most foster parents are good people, but there aren’t enough of them. Most foster parents aren’t like the ones you see on TV news in unfortunate ways. They try hard and do the best they can to help the children who come to them. There just aren’t enough good foster homes. When foster care is at its best, each child is matched with a family who best meets his or her specific needs and interests. Stays are really temporary – a month or so, as intensive services are provided to parents or kinship care is found. In today’s systems, most often kids go to the foster home that has an empty bed. Some children end up in group homes, shelters or other congregate care facilities. That’s worse.
  5. Foster kids are good kids in a bad situation. Foster kids are just kids – like your kids. But they’ve experienced more difficult situations and hard times than most adults ever will. Some develop emotional and behavioral problems and challenging behaviors. Most have tough outer shells to protect themselves from more hurt and rejection. They desperately need committed adults to make a difference in their lives. They want someone to cheer for them at their football games, go to ballet recitals, help with homework.
  6. Adopting from foster care is not as hard as you would think. Heard about how expensive adoptions are? Well, not from foster care. When you foster-to-adopt, you’ll receive a reimbursement to cover the cost of providing for another child in your home, and you may qualify for a continuing support after adoption. The child’s health care and college expenses may be covered as well. And you may be surprised to hear that most teens want to be adopted; I was 17 when I was adopted and my family is still so important to me today.

In every state system, there are thousands of children and youth who haven’t received the help they need to be reunited with their family or find a new one through adoption. We can do better than this and we should.

Mary Lee is national coordinator for YVLifeSet, a program of Youth Villages that provides help to youth who age out of state custody at 18 without continuing support. The program was recently the focus of an MDRC/University of Chicago study that found it increases earnings and economic well-being, improves mental health and decreases homelessness and partner violence for the young people who participate in it. For more information, visit

National policy experts panel discusses YVLifeSet’s effectiveness in Capitol Hill roundtable

May 22, 2015
Mark Courtney,  a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, was the principal investigator for a key study of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program.

Mark Courtney, a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, was the principal investigator for a key study of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program. More photos below.

A panel of national policy and research experts met on Capitol Hill May 20 before an audience of state and federal policymakers to discuss evidence that the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program improves outcomes for former foster youth.

[You can watch the entire roundtable discussion at the bottom of this post.]

Hosted by Results for America and Youth Villages, the event featured researchers from national social services research nonprofit MDRC and the University of Chicago, who presented the results of the largest study to date conducted on a program helping former foster youth transition into adulthood in the United States. The rigorous, randomized trial shows promising results and implications in multiple areas for how to effectively help one of the country’s most vulnerable populations – the 23,000 young people who turn 18 and age out of foster care systems each year.

“It is the largest, rigorous evaluation ever conducted for services for this population,” said Dr. Erin Valentine, lead author of the MDRC study.

Researchers followed more than 1,300 young people who aged out state custody in Tennessee who were randomly assigned to receive either Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet services or other available services in the community. The one-year results from the study showed that the YVLifeSet program increased participants’ economic well-being and earnings, improved mental health, and decreased the likeliness of homelessness and domestic or partner violence. One-year results of the program did not show statistically significant impacts in education, criminal involvement or social support.

“Overall, YVLifeSet had a number of positive impacts on important outcomes,” Valentine said. “As far as the size of the impacts, they are consistent with the type of individualized program that this is. In addition, the impacts are very important. This is the only program that has been found to be effective through rigorous research across a wide range of issues for these very vulnerable young people.”

Read more…

White House honors foster care youth as ‘Champions of Change’

May 19, 2015

Watch the entire event on Youtube.

Today the White House honored 12 former foster youth as “Champions of Change” who are making a difference in their communities. In addition to honoring these young people for their courage, resilience, and contributions, the event highlighted their commitment to furthering their education. The event showcased the stories and work of these inspirational leaders as a part of National Foster Care Month.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.

Among the honorees were Mary Lee, national coordinator for Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program, and Sixto Cancel, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and member of Youth Villages’ YV Scholar program.

Mary Lee

Mary Lee

Mary Lee, Memphis, Tennessee
Mary Lee, Esq., serves as National YVLifeSet Coordinator for Youth Villages, a national children’s services nonprofit headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. YVLifeSet helps provide vulnerable young adults, some of whom are aging out of foster care, with the skills necessary to achieve their fullest potential. At Youth Villages, Lee helped to establish the YV Scholars program, which offers young adults in YVLifeSet additional support to meet their educational goals. One of Lee’s greatest achievements was helping ensure foster youth adopted from state custody would not have to choose between being adopted by a family and pursuing higher education, as she did. Her story inspired the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act (nicknamed the Mary Lee Act). Mary Lee is a graduate of Austin Peay State University and The Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.

Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel, Richmond, Virginia
Sixto Cancel is a college student and a Young Adult Consultant with the Children’s Bureau, working in the Center for State Capacity. As a commitment maker for the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), Cancel founded Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to innovating with data, technology and multi-media to serve vulnerable populations. His dedication to helping young people succeed in life started in high school with Stellar Works, his initiative to provide SAT and remedial education programing for students in foster care. He has also served as a member of the National Foster Care and Alumni Policy Council, as an advisory member to the American Institutes for Research LGBTQQA Advisory Board, and currently serves as a board member of the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Cancel is a fourth year student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Youth Villages congratulates Mary and Sixto on this tremendous honor!

Mentors help Fred travel a different path

May 18, 2015

Fred2015Fred recently was hired by a national airline to work in their computer-programming department.

It’s the culmination of years of hard work and making tough choices. It’s the beginning of a new chapter, one where Fred has begun to give back and share his story.

“I want to write a book about coming out of this,” he said. “A message of hope, a message of coming out of foster care, forgiving your parents and being the change you want to see happen.”

At the core of Fred’s journey were the people who guided, mentored and supported him through triumphs and difficulties. Fred didn’t choose the easy way. He was valedictorian at his high school and graduated cum laude from Jackson State University. Fred didn’t stumble into success. He made it through careful choices and has laid the groundwork to do more.

During high school, he met former NFL player Tyrone Keys. They formed a quick and close bond through a common coach, Odell Jenkins. After high school, Fred enrolled at Mississippi State University and earned a spot on the football team as a walk-on. Keys, who also played football at MSU, saw a lot of himself in Fred.

“Fred showed leadership qualities when he was in high school,” Keys said. “But I’m just one of a whole lot of people who are helping — it takes a team.”

At Mississippi State, Fred began participating in YVLifeSet, a Youth Villages program that helps former foster youth make a successful transition to adulthood. Fred’s story was well known among staff at Youth Villages, and after he spoke with Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler during the organization’s annual conference, Fred had found another team member.

“I surrounded myself with wise people and heeded their advice,” Fred said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important mentors were to me.”

Because of responsibilities to his family in addition to many other expenses and a full courseload in college, Fred chose to stop playing football and to focus on school. Fred said his heart wasn’t in it any more. Keys was also there. He told Fred that football wasn’t for everyone.

“Fred had been blessed to travel a different path,” Keys said. “He’s one of a kind. All kids don’t wake up at the same time.”

Out of football, Fred focused on his studies. Keys tells a story about an extracurricular program Fred was a part of that required a presentation. Fred put the presentation together on his cellular phone. He told Fred he should consider computer programming as a career.

In the meantime, Lawler was learning more about young people in the YVLifeSet program.

“I remember asking during a meeting, ‘How many more like Fred does Youth Villages have?'” Lawler said. “‘Who’s been pulled down by life, trauma and a lack of confidence?'”

From there, YVLifeSet expanded and changed into a service customized for each young person. In YVLifeSet, Fred had the support to push himself to do more. In turn, he challenged the YVLifeSet program.

“At first we didn’t have the means to be more individual with the service, but Fred inspired us,” Lawler said. “We began to look more closely at what the young people needed.”

Fred was one of the original 12 YVLifeSet youth who launched the YV Scholars program. These 12 received extra support for college provided they maintained rigorous academic and community service requirements.

“We decided to grow and expand the YVLifeSet program into the YV Scholars,” Lawler said. “Fred, as well as others, became ambassadors for us and our programs.”

At Jackson State University, Fred continued his education and aggressively sought internships. He relied on family supports to help with his two children, and often volunteered for Jackson-area civic groups and nonprofits. He began telling his story wherever he could. He maintained a cadre of mentors, people who counseled and listened to him.

“YVLifeSet helped me with what I needed,” Fred said. “It was a two-way street. I had the confidence someone had my back, and YVLifeSet was there to assist me when I needed help.”

Fred expects an adjustment period to get used to his new surroundings and new job, but his passion for helping others continues.

“I understand it’s not about me any more,” he said in a 2013 profile from Jackson State University. “…It’s about going back and sharing what I have been through and inspiring others that they can make it.”

Charlotte youth will enjoy extracurricular activities thanks to cornhole fundraiser

May 15, 2015

Recently, more than 60 community members braved the heat at Rooftop210 at the EpiCentre in Charlotte, North Carolina, to participate in Youth Villages’ second annual Cornhole Tournament, presented by Bank of the Ozarks.

The event – which featured a raffle, prizes and live music – benefited young people receiving help at Youth Villages. Over the past two years the event has raised a total of $6,055 to allow troubled youth the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities they otherwise would be unable to afford – such as summer camps, after-school programs and sports teams.

A special young man, Nathan, and his mother, Ronya, shared their heartwarming story of funds from the event creating a positive change in their family.

“Nathan was able to participate in basketball and football. I would like to thank Youth Villages for their support,” Ronya said.

BankofOzarksThanks to the generosity of event participants and presenting sponsor Bank of the Ozarks, children at Youth Villages will be able to move closer to finding long-term success in life.

“Bank of the Ozarks places a priority on investing in the Charlotte community and we are so very proud to partner with Youth Villages to make sure disadvantaged children have the opportunity to thrive,” said Cindy Wolfe, President, Carolinas Division Bank of the Ozarks.

Thank you to all who turned out to support Youth Villages mission to help troubled children and their families live successfully!


Congratulations to the winning teams: 1st – Silent Types, 2nd – Honeycutt It Out, 3rd – Final Frontier.

A very special thanks to Boingo Graphics for their generosity.

See our Flickr gallery for more photos from the event.


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